As the work-from-home trend nears the one year mark amid COVID-19, more people may be experiencing low back pain. That’s due to more time sitting and the use of makeshift desks and household chairs, which may not have the same ergonomic design as office setups.
Here are some tips to prevent and treat back pain:
• Focus on Posture. Whether at the kitchen table or on the couch, make sure you are sitting up straight with your knees at a 90-degree angle, with your shoulders in a straight line over your hips and your ears directly over your shoulders. When at a computer, adjust the screen height to eye level and elevate the keyboard to help keep your hands, wrists and forearms in line and parallel to the floor.
• Take Breaks. You may notice you feel sore even if you maintain good posture throughout your workday. If you stay in one spot for too long, your muscles and joints may get stiff. Consider taking quick breaks every 30 minutes to get up and stretch or walk around. This may promote better blood flow for your muscles and joints, and it may also give your eyes and mind a break.
• Stay Active. While some people with low back pain may be tempted to consider bed rest, staying active in many cases may be the best option. Low impact activities to consider include walking and swimming, while research indicates that strengthening leg muscles may also prove helpful. You might also try yoga and tai chi, as they’ve been shown to ease moderate to severe low back pain.
• Eat a Healthier Diet. The bones, muscles, discs and other structures in your back need proper nutrition to help support your body. Eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats may help reduce inflammation, often a contributing factor to chronic back pain. Eating a healthier diet may also help you maintain a healthy weight, which may also reduce your risk for back pain.
• Consider care options. Exercise-based therapies should be the first line of treatment, followed by physical therapy, chiropractic care, acupuncture and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs. These noninvasive treatment options, which in some cases may be covered by your health benefit plan, may help 95% of people with low back pain recover after 12 weeks.
Dr. Russell Amundson is a neurosurgeon and senior medical director at UnitedHealthcare in Philadelphia.