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Does Work From Home Cause More Back Pain?

So it turns out that working from home during the pandemic lockdown tortured our backs. A recent study shows that more than a third of people have experienced increased back pain during lockdown. The study claims that 25 to 44 year-olds were more likely to claim back pain caused by inadequate work from home set ups.

Back pain (36 percent) is the biggest problem, followed by headaches (34 percent), joint pain (27 percent), neck pain (26 percent) and muscle pain (24 percent). In addition to poor workstation ergonomics, those surveyed attributed these symptoms to more time spent looking after children. Plus, it's stressful to juggle work with homeschooling. Finally, many of us stopped working out and going to the gym and so our physical activities declined as well.

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Exercise is the Answer

You may feel like lying down until the pain goes away, but the latest evidence shows that being active is essential for both prevention and recovery. “Keep moving, keep active and things will settle,” says Chris Mercer, an NHS consultant physiotherapist who specializes in back pain. Exercising when you're in pain can be scary, but take it from Jack Noonan, a retired English professor from Philadelphia who realized the benefits first-hand during the recently.

He developed sciatica; intense pain down the back of one leg, caused by the compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve, probably from long hours of work from home while sitting at the desk, or while sitting on the couch watching TV. However, he says he is now good as new and believes the exercise program he performed not only cured his back pain, but helped him avoid surgery.

When he was first struck with the condition, he was in so much pain that he made an appointment with an orthopedist. The doctor told him surgery was the only option.

Man exercising for low back pain at home
Jack Noonan, exercising at home.

Jack refused to accept that as his only outcome, and made an appointment with a physiotherapist. Through a rehabilitative exercise program that he performs twice a day, he was able to get out of pain and stay out of pain without an unnecessary and expensive surgery.

So Where Do I Start?

The good news is that it's not really important what type of exercise you do. As long as you enjoy it and are sensible, the consistency is key. Don't commit to an intense workout if you know you'll be quitting by the end of the week. This should be fun! There is tons of evidence that exercise is good for low back pain, and that can be surfing or a bike ride, or doing Zumba, yoga or pilates. The evidence just says you’re better to move and do stuff than not. It’s a lot simpler than people think. As long as it's something that you enjoy, you'll keep doing it.

If it's too painful to carry out your normal activities, take over-the-counter painkillers and remaining “active within the limits of your pain”, says Mercer. If walking and changing sitting position regularly is all that is possible for a while, then at least do that. “What can happen if people have had a severe episode of pain is that they stop walking, gardening, going for a bike ride and doing all the things that they like to do. They become less and less active, and more and more disabled by their worries.”

Exercise is about more than physical fitness. “Back pain is heavily linked to depression and mental health problems,” says Mercer. And exercise is, of course, brilliant for helping to maintain mental health. So while Noonan’s exercises have improved his strength and balance, they have also boosted his confidence. “I think I’ve become more open to the world around me,” he says. “And I’ve certainly become more open to how my body works.”

The moral of the story? Don't lose your cool, and keep it moving! Need some inspiration? Check out the video below for a few simple exercises for low back pain if you need some inspiration to get started.