Working from Home Leads to Neck and Back Pain

The global pandemic has changed life for everybody. For the millions forced to work from home, the technical and childcare challenges have worked themselves out as new purchases and arrangements have been made, but the problem of back and neck pain has remained — and for some they have gotten worse, especially now that cold weather has arrived, limiting our ability to get outside for some restorative exercise. Between poor ergonomics, sitting too long and pre-existing muscle weakness, there has been a sharp increase in complaints of neck and back pain. The good news is that there are steps you can take to correct the problem.

You may not miss your commute and may be enjoying the comforts of ‘leisure wear,’ but working from home has also introduced a far more sedentary lifestyle. We are spending far more time sitting, losing even the minimal exercise involved in walking to public transportation or from a parking space into an office. Even going to the bathroom involves far fewer steps than we were previously required to take in our office or workspaces, and meetings are held without ever leaving your office chair (or couch). That lack of movement contributes to the risk of illnesses like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity and has led to poor posture, lack of exercise, and one in five office workers reporting a new episode of back or neck pain.

To understand why this is happening, all you need to do is look at the natural slightly arched position of a healthy lumbar spine and compare it to the relaxed arch known as lumbar flexion that occurs with prolonged sitting. The pelvis rotates forward, and this position adds pressure to the discs in the spine as we eventually slouch. Leaning forward adds additional stress on the neck, and add excess weight created by sedentary living and increased eating and drinking and you have the perfect recipe for inflammation and pain.

To remain healthy, the spine needs healthy supporting structures, and sitting all day (and especially doing so with poor posture) weakens muscles and ligaments that provide that support. By contrast, creating a healthier home office environment and sticking to an exercise routine that includes regular stretching offsets the negative impacts created by working from home.

To create a healthy workplace, you need to have a real desk with an appropriate chair, all set at the right height and with your computer monitor adjusted to the correct height. Your elbows, wrists and especially your lumbar spine all need appropriate support, even if it is just from small cushions placed behind your back. Many people have replaced the folding chairs and dining room chairs that they had been using with gym balls that provide the benefit of a core workout both by itself and when used as a seat. Standing desks have also grown in popularity.

Most important of all is a dedication to movement. Though gyms are closed and the weather has gotten colder, there are many indoor options that can provide what you need. While some have purchased pricey exercise bikes or invested in treadmills, elliptical trainers and rowing machines, others are taking advantage of online classes that offer unlimited options, including yoga, stretching, aerobics and more.

If you have tried these options and continue to experience pain, it is probably time to consult with our New Jersey spine practice for a diagnosis that gets to the root of the problem. Contact us today to set up a time for an appointment.

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