6 Tips to Relieve Back Pain While Working from Home
Working from home has its pros and cons. Pro: I get to lounge in a T-shirt and yoga pants while I write. Con: My back hurts from sitting on my couch and crouching over my laptop for eight hours a day.
Back pain is a common complaint among people who sit all day, whether in an office or at home. According to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA), more than 30 million people deal with back pain on a daily basis—and up to 80% of Americans will experience back pain at some point in their lives.
With the government asking all non-essential employees to work from home for at least the next few weeks to flatten the curve, I knew I needed to find a way to stop my minor back pain from getting any worse. After all, back pain can make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep, and poor sleep can make it challenging to be productive at work.
So I called up Tom Tozer of Imperium Chiropractic in Wisconsin for his top tips on preventing back pain while working from home. Here’s what he had to say.
Designate a workspace
Sitting on the couch just won’t cut it when you’re working from home for an extended period of time (anywhere from a couple of weeks to potentially months due to the coronavirus pandemic). Tozer suggests making the effort to establish a work from home area. “It could be a combination of finding a workable counter or desk space and setting up a temporary table that would give you a consistent workspace,” he says.
Choose the right chair
If you were able to bring your office chair home with you (and you’ve cleaned it appropriately, of course)—or you already have an office-like chair at home—then you’re in good shape. Many office chairs are ergonomic, meaning they have features like lumbar support and seat height adjustability to keep your back healthy.
If you’re stuck with a hard kitchen chair, you’ll want to add a cushion to protect your back. “Sitting on a hard, wood kitchen chair for even a day would be quite stressful and may cause you to put yourself in poor posture,” says Tozer. “If you don’t have a good chair, use some type of cushion so fatigue doesn’t set in.” Another way to protect your lower back is to place a rolled-up sweatshirt or towel in the small of your lower back while sitting.
Set up your computer properly
Once you’ve got your desk and chair figured out, it’s time to set up your computer the right way. Make sure your computer is at arm’s length, with the screen at eye level. “You may need to put your computer up onto something, like a wood crate, to get the screen to the appropriate height,” Tozer says.
Take breaks from sitting
Many of my WFH days look like this: I roll out of bed at 9 a.m., plop myself on the couch, and all of a sudden I look at my phone and it’s 2 p.m. Spending all that time on my behind is not so good for my back. “We start to see tissue break down after 20 minutes of using the same tissues,” says Tozer.
He suggests setting a kitchen timer for 20 to 30 minutes and switching positions each time the timer goes off. “If you’ve been sitting, take a little break—as short as 30 seconds—to stand up,” he says. “If you’ve been sitting and looking down, you’ll want to look up for 30 seconds.”
The same holds true for those who have standing desks. “Anytime you can vary your posture every 20 to 30 minutes, that’s great,” says Tozer.
Stretch your arms, shoulders, and neck
There are some simple stretches you can do to prevent back pain while working from home. Focus on your neck, shoulders, and arms, which bear the brunt of activity. “Stretch your neck, shoulders, and arms backward,” says Tozer. “Arm and neck circles are good stretches too.” And first thing in the morning, before you even get out of bed, pull your knees to your chest for a good lower back stretch.
Load up on vegetables
Grocery shopping isn’t exactly easy these days, but it’s important to try to stock up on nutritious foods if you can because they’re good for your back. “Your diet has a lot to do with whether you’re going to be inflamed and irritated,” says Tozer. Plus, all that stress you’re experiencing right now lowers your immune system, making a healthy diet essential to protect you from illness. The experts at Harvard Medical School recommend a balanced diet of unrefined carbs, proteins, and fats, with a focus on veggies, whole grains, and healthy oils.
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Back still bothering you? We’ve rounded up our best advice for easing the pain: