Working from home – the new challenge for your lower back

Looks like working from home is a norm for many of us by now. This new working environment poses a lot of challenges, like distracting kids, inefficient Wifi, annoying partners, as well as, poor ergonomics which sometimes leads to lower back pain.

Well statistics shows almost everyone gets at least one episode of lower back pain in our lifetime. Most of these episodes are muscular in nature and resolves by itself with rest. In some occasions it might affect the other structures in the back, including the joints, discs, and nerves, giving rise to severe pain and symptoms down the leg.

New insight into “ergonomics”

Working from home has given us the freedom of working in all various postures that we can imagine – working on the bed, working on the sofa, working on the floor, working on top of a cabinet etc… Ideally, prolonged computer work should be done on a proper desk, sitting on a chair with good back support. However, given the home environment, it may not be possible all the time.

The next BEST thing to do would be switching among different environments and postures, so that you do not stay in one same posture and overwork same group of muscles for 8 hours a day.

Just be aware that different people have different body builds, and we may find different postures to be the most comfortable for our individual body.

For example, a yogi may find it most relaxed sitting cross legged on the floor working on a laptop. An inflexible person may not last more than one minute in this position, and instead find working in the standing position to be more comfortable.

At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong way as long as the body is at ease. The main point is not to maintain any posture for too long. So our physio solution is to find 2-3 cosy spots at home and switch around every 1-2 hours.

Do not be obsessed with the idea of “sitting straight”. More often, we are sitting too straight as this idea is deeply rooted from many years of teaching from your mother to your teacher! Our muscles are not designed to maintain an upright posture for 8 hours a day. If you force yourself into a super straight position, be assured that the lower back will be sore and tired at the end of the day, if not sooner.

Also, our lower back needs good support. Be sure that you make good use of the back support that the chair has to offer. If the chair is too deep, use a cushion to support your lower back. Make sure that the muscles of the back can relax.

Another tip is to make use of the pockets of time in between your work to do some housework! So instead of sitting 4-5 hours straight, you will be getting up to do the laundry, to vacuum the floor, to do some preparation work for your next meal, etc. As a result, you have your work done without too much soreness or stiffness, and you will have a happy partner as well!

Are you doing the exercises right?

Lower back pain is not exclusive for the sedentary population. Among the active population, such as the gym-goers, lower back pain is a common complaint as well. Many among the sedentary population are making use of the stay home time to start a more active lifestyle. Inappropriate exercise programs, however, may predispose you to lower back pain.

Some muscle groups commonly get neglected in strengthening programs. They include the core muscles and hamstrings muscles, both of them crucial for the health of the lower back. The core muscles are frequently mistaken for the abdominal muscles. Many of us would do a lot of abs strengthening and believe that we have strong core.

As a matter of fact, the core muscles are a group of very deep muscles around the trunk that is almost impossible to observe or feel from the surface of the body. Pilates is a good form of exercise to strengthen the core muscles. Pilates mat exercises is a good start for strengthening the core at home.

The hamstrings muscles are located at the back of the thigh. It helps to control the forward bending movement of the body, and thus off-loads the lower back muscles. Unlike its companion in the front of the thigh, the hamstring muscles often get omitted in strengthening programs.

Moreover, it is not so frequently used in our daily activities, thus more prone to develop weakness. Consult our physiotherapists for your back pain and often we will target your hamstrings with a plethora of exercises.

Another common mistake that leads to lower back pain, or any other musculoskeletal injury, is jumping into exercises too fast from a sedentary lifestyle. After being inactive for long, our bodies are deconditioned. A lot of muscles are either weak or tight. They are not ready for strenuous exercises!

Being too ambitious in leading a healthier lifestyle, many of us suddenly pick up exercises such as long distance running and HIIT. The poor muscles are suddenly forced to work beyond their capacity, and thus will lead to pain and injury. The correct way is to always start from easier exercises or a shorter session and ensure adequate stretching before or after the exercises.

Working from home is a time for creativity – to explore new routines and new hobbies. Take good care of yourself and we shall come out of it stronger and better.

Are you struggling with back pain that is hindering your daily activities? If so then consider visiting a Singapore physio for physiotherapy treatment for back pain.

Darek Lam

Senior Principal Physiotherapist


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