Back pain while working from home

29 May Back pain while working from home

Do you suffer with back pain while working from home?

 

Following on from our previous blog about optimising ergonomics to reduce neck pain while working from home during Covid-19 (read HERE if you haven’t already), this blog will focus on the ergonomic solutions to common low back pain problems.

Before reading further, understand these are two key points for working at home:

  • Changing postures and moving is the best way to minimise pain.
    • Limiting ANY stationary posture (sitting or standing) to no more than 30 mins before taking a mini-break (brief walk, stretch) is suggested
  • Continue regular exercise as much as possible.
    • It aids not only with issues of pain and muscle stiffness, but also helps stress management and improves quality of sleep.

 

What are common causes of low back pain while working from home

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Below are some common low back pain symptom presentations and how they relate to ergonomic features.

1.Tight hip flexors and low back muscles sore from sitting upright

Perhaps you’re compensating for low chair height

Chair height

  • Should allow elbows to be at, or slightly (5cm) above desk height. This should be the primary factor dictating chair height
  • Ideally, chair height will also allow knees to be positioned slightly below hip height with feet flat on the floor. However, elbow position (above) is not to be compromised

 

2.Low back pain and slouching posture

Your foot position can impact on your pelvis and low back position, leading to pain over time

Foot position

  • Should be comfortably supported flat on the floor with knees flexed at ~90 degrees
    • A footrest may be required for those who are shorter
  • If feet are further outstretched this can lead to undesirable pelvic and low back positioning characteristic of a slumped posture. Therefore the desired setup is with feet flat on the floor

 

3.Pain around the base of your shoulder blades

Perhaps your mid-back is not supported by the backrest of your chair.

Backrest length

  • Should extend from the low back up to the mid-shoulder-blade region
  • If possible, backrest should be tilted back 10-20 degrees
  • Spine should be relaxed but supported against the backrest at all times

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How to make modifications for working from home

Working from home may mean we don’t have the desired equipment and resources to achieve an optimal ergonomic setup. Equipment limitations, individual differences and task requirements may require adapting the guidelines above to best fit your needs. Here are some tips for creating the ideal home setup.

  • If sitting on a dining chair, use pillows/cushions to lift hips above knees
    • Use a rolled up towel as lumbar support if the backrest is vertical
  • Elevate your screen using phone- or text- books
    • Using an external keyboard or mouse may help facilitate this, especially if working from a laptop
  • Can you create a secondary work space that enables a change in posture?
    • e. can you create a standing work space at a kitchen bench? Or using an ironing board?
    • Can you schedule standing/walking phone meetings?

 

Finally, another common problem associated with low back pain is the layout of the workstation. Consider your job tasks (typing, writing, reading documents, etc.) and how often you complete them. Simply rearranging (and maybe decluttering!) your workstation so as to minimise leaning, twisting and other awkward positions may ease your low back pain.

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Our physio Seb and ergonomic expert is conducting ergonomic assessments via online consultations. For a comprehensive assessment of your working from home setup BOOK HERE.