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Reducing back pain caused by working from home

Many of you will now have been working from home for a large chunk of the year and although you may be getting used to not going in to the office, you may still find yourself with lower back pain that you didn’t have before (or worse pain than before). Back pain is one of the most common musculoskeletal conditions, and it can cause disturbances to your work and life.

When you were in the office you may have had physical interventions put in place to ensure you weren’t sitting still for a long period of time e.g. standing desks or ergonomic chairs. Now that you’re at home the likelihood is you don’t have these things in place, and this combined with not commuting and probably not having to climb as many stairs could be causing pain in your lower back.

One thing you can do from home to help with this is to vary your posture throughout the day, which has been shown to reduce shoulder and back pain. This could be a big movement like standing up and taking a couple of steps away from the desk before returning and continuing your work, or a small movement such as crossing and uncrossing your legs. This ensures you are not sitting in the exact same position for too long, as it has been suggested that even holding a ‘good’ sitting position can cause discomfort if held for too long as your muscles fatigue.

To put this into action try setting an alarm to go off at 20 minute intervals to remind you to change position (although probably best to have it as a quiet vibrate rather than a big alarm sound that might throw you off your train of thought!). You can try various positions – cross legged, on a different chair, or with your legs stretched out to the side (improves hip function). Have a stretch if you’re feeling stiff or achy, just a quick touch of the toes and shoulder roll could go long way.

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The importance of staying active during COVID restrictions

As we’re facing ever changing restrictions and it doesn’t look like this virus is going anywhere, I thought I’d talk about the importance of staying active through lockdowns and other COVID restrictions.

Recent research has found that activity levels have decreased by 33% and sitting time has increased by about 28%. Those who were commuting to work have lost their walk to the station, or even a cycle to their place of work in some cases. Two-week quarantine periods have meant people are confined to their homes unless there is an emergency, such as needing to go to A&E. We all know that being sedentary is ‘bad’, but specifically it is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, obesity, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, bone and joint disease, depression, and premature death. As well as the physical effects of lockdown, there has been a huge impact on the nation’s mental health, with NHS mental health services having a surge in referrals.

If you were exercising before lockdown, you are not exempt from these this, although you’re in a much better place than you would be had you not been training beforehand. After 3 months of not exercising, it has been found that cholesterol, glucose, blood pressure, aerobic fitness, and strength are all negatively affected. Luckily, these levels are not likely to be all the way back to how they were before you started exercising.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, as regular moderate exercise has been shown to benefit your immune system, which is even more important during this time. It has also been shown time and time again to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. For the best chance of sticking to your goal of being physically active, have a think about these things;

  • What kind of exercise do you prefer? E.g. doing a strength session indoors vs going for a fast walk/jog outdoors.
  • When do you want to be active? E.g. do you want to complete a full exercise session at a set time or exercise sporadically through the day in shorter bursts?
  • How can you schedule and prompt yourself to exercise? E.g. schedule a time to exercise and set a time on your phone to remind you, or book into a class online.

Habits have been found to be more likely to form if you set a time to do it i.e. exercise in this case, and if you combine it with something else you enjoy, such as listening to music or catching up with a friend.

As we age a number of things happen to our body which can be exacerbated by a lack of physical activity – loss of muscle mass, strength, power, and cardiovascular fitness. Resistance training in particular has been shown to ameliorate or even reverse this, and also improves walking endurance, gait speed, static and dynamic balance, stair climbing, and reduces risk of falls. For these reasons, it is important that older adults include strength training in their exercise regime.

The British Journal of Sports Medicine recently published an infographic on this topic, including the physical activity recommendations (150-300 minutes moderate to vigorous exercise per week) and examples of activity that could help you reach those recommendations. I have included this in the featured image (at the top of the page).

Hopefully we will see you all in the gym in the not so distant future if you are still training from home, but for now keep up those zoom sessions and try to get your walks in!