With safe management measures in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, work from home (abbreviated to WFH) will become a standard practice in many workplaces. WFH often involves sitting in front of your laptop for hours without getting up to move around. Over time sitting for long periods can contribute to discomfort and lower back pain. With some simple measures and affordable products, you can improve your posture and make WFH a more comfortable experience.
Symptoms and Causes of Lower Back Pain
Lower back pain is often felt in the lower part of your spine near your pelvis. The muscles in this area are responsible for supporting us as well as for allowing our hips to rotate when we walk. Lower back pain can happen when there is a strain or injury to the muscles and ligaments that support the lower back vertebrae. Our bodies produce inflammation as an immune response to the strain, which can cause pain and limit our mobility in the area. Most lower back pain is mechanical pain, which can be localised to certain parts of the lower body like the buttocks or hips and feel different with different movements like turning around. Radicular pain can occur if a nerve in the spine is injured and can feel like a sharp or burning sensation. It is usually only felt on one side of the body.
There are three general types of lower back pain. Acute back pain is lower back pain that starts suddenly and usually lasts for a few hours before going away. Lower back pain that lasts for a few days is considered subacute back pain and may require some medical intervention if the pain interferes with daily activities like walking or sitting and lying down. Chronic back pain is pain that lasts for three months or more and may require a more specialised plan of treatment.
Symptoms of lower back pain include:
- A dull or achy pain in the lower back area
- Difficulty in standing up, sitting down, or transitioning between the two
- Muscle spasms in the pelvis, lower back, and hips
- Pain that becomes worse when sitting down or standing up
Sitting in front of a computer can make lower back pain worse because we do not often have proper lower back support when we sit and work for long periods of time. When our office environment is not set up to provide the proper level of comfort when we work at our computers, we often experience back pain, wrist strain and aches in our shoulders. Prolonged lower back pain that isn’t addressed can lead to chronic inflammation that can affect your bones and muscles.
Five Tips to Relieve Lower Back Pain
Lower back pain can interfere with working from home but can be prevented with some simple steps. Here are five steps you can try on your own to reduce fatigue and lower back pain during WFH
1. Get Regular Exercise
Performing simple exercises and stretches can help us to relax and strengthen our back muscles to help us sit for longer periods without feeling fatigued. Even moving your upper body backward and forward can help to relieve some symptoms of mild back pain. Do not rush into doing strenuous activity, however. Starting with mild stretches and progressing gradually to more intensive exercise can give our lower back muscles time to recover.
2. Sit Upright With a Straight Neck
Much of lower back pain caused by prolonged computer use comes from slouching forward when we peer at our computer screens. This leads to neck pain as it strains the trapezius muscles connecting our neck to our shoulders. Sitting upright and keeping our neck straight will relieve the pressure on our trapezius muscles and keep us from feeling neck pain. To further help with this, you can zoom in on your browser or increase the text size in your documents to prevent you from having to strain your neck to read them.
3. Keep Your Keyboard and Mouse at a Comfortable Height
Some of us might be accustomed to sitting cross-legged on our couches or beds and working on our laptops from a small desk. Doing so could increase your chance of experiencing lower back pain as placing our keyboards and mouse at a low height forces us to bend forward in order to use them. Place your keyboard and mouse at a comfortable height where you can use them while sitting up straight.
4. Place Your Feet Flat on the Floor When You Work
When we are working at our computers, we might be tempted to put our feet up on a chair to try to make ourselves feel more comfortable or sit cross-legged on the floor. However, such sitting positions could conversely place strain on our hips when they must support our feet bending in tense or unnatural positions. Placing our feet flat on the floor can help us to cope and relieve lower back pain. If it is difficult for you to place your feet flat on the floor you can use a foot rest or support.
5. Take Regular Breaks to Stand Up and Walk Around
Even with the most comfortable set-up cannot completely eliminate the chance that you can experience lower back pain from sitting for too long. When you have to work at the computer for a long time, you can include breaks every 15 minutes where you get up and stretch or walk around for a short time before returning to your seat. Doing so can also help to rest your eyes as we can experience eye strain from staring at the computer screen for too long.
7 Best Purchases to Prevent Lower Back Pain at Home when Working From Home
There are some simple purchases you can make to improve your sitting posture and even strengthen your core muscles. Here are some items that Homage recommends that can make WFH less taxing on your back. All of these items are less than $50, so you do not need to spend a large amount of money to find means to reduce your lower back pain.
1. Trideer Exercise Ball ($18-$34)
Sitting on an exercise ball instead of a chair is a good way to improve posture and train your abdominal muscles. The Trideer Exercise Ball has a durable slip-resistant exterior to prevent you from falling off the gym ball for exercises which require balance, like weighted workouts. This exercise ball also comes with a foot pump so that you do not need to replace it with a new one whenever it deflates.
2. Villsure Lumbar Support Pillow ($36.38)
This Villsure Lumbar Support Pillow is a foam pillow designed to help you have a comfortable experience. It comes with adjustable straps which can keep it in place against the back of your chair and is designed to fit the natural curvature of your spine which can support your lower back as you work.
A study conducted in 2019 found that acupressure can help to relieve symptoms of chronic lower back pain. This Bumblebaa acupressure mat and pillow set is designed for you to use while lying down to increase blood flow, stimulating the muscles along your back to help them relax and relieve pain. The pillow can be placed between your neck and the back of your chair so that you can ease neck and shoulder strain as you work.
4. Ergonomic feet cushion ($12.30)
Buying a foot cushion can provide support for your feet to reduce lower back pain. This ergonomic foot cushion on Lazada is made with breathable mesh fabric to make it comfortable to use even on hot days. With handles on its sides, it can even be transported to your car or your bed to allow you to have a comfortable sitting experience wherever you like.
5. Premium BackMagic Stretcher ($10.90)
This MagicBack stretcher can be used lying down with the arch of the stretcher placed against the curve of your back. The arch can be adjusted to provide different degrees of stretch and increase the level of flexibility in your shoulder muscles.
6. Pathfinder Foam Back Roller ($7.15)
These foam rollers can be used as a self-massage tool on the ground, for example by placing them beneath your thighs while you sit with your legs stretched in front of you on the floor. Small bumps on the surface of the foam roller provide extra relief by helping to massage your muscles. You can choose between 60cm and 30cm versions.
7. Decathlon 500 Small Massage Ball ($5.00)
The trigger points on this massage ball can help to give your muscles a massage and relieve sore spots in your back. You can also use it to massage achy areas on your feet or legs. This affordable palm-sized ball can easily be carried around and placed on your desk for quick relief.
Back Pain Treatments
If you have lower back pain which lasts for more than a few months, you cannot relieve it by just simple stretches and equipment alone. If the pain arises when you are doing a specific activity and goes away within 72 hours, you do not need medical attention. However severe or long-lasting back pain may be a sign of a more serious condition. Consult your doctor for your lower back pain if:
- Your back pain does not decrease or go away within one week
- You experience a strong sharp pain rather than a dull ache
- You experience a sudden weakness in your legs
- You cannot control your bowel movements (incontinence)
- You feel numbness or pins and needles in the groin area or glutes. This is known as saddle anaesthesia and could be a sign of a serious nerve condition
If you experience lasting back pain, you will need targeted back pain treatments. You should take a break from your usual physical activities for a few days to give your muscles space to relax and heal. Surgery is generally only required in severe cases, such as in cases where there are pinched nerves or alignment problems with the spinal vertebrae. In most cases your doctor may prescribe exercises and stretches for you to do regularly, as well as proper posture and lifting techniques.
Homage Care Pros are equipped to help you with physiotherapy at home. With a combination of heat, movement and manual exercise, physiotherapy can gradually help you to reduce pain and recover movement in your back. You do not need to travel long distances to have physiotherapy. By booking a Care Pro on our Homage mobile application, you can receive guided exercises from the comfort of your home. With Homage you can take the first steps towards a painless hassle-free life.
Also, if you’re looking for someone to care for your loved ones, Homage provides caregiving services at every stage. Our trained care professionals are able to provide companionship, nursing care, night caregiving, home therapy and more, to keep your loved ones active and engaged.
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