Working from home: Tips for avoiding back and neck pain

It’s now nearly a year since many people have been working from home either all or most of the time.

This has caused disruption to many people’s typical routine, and led to concerns around people’s physical and mental health.

Professionals are also highlighting potential back and neck problems resulting from people’s sedentary lifestyles while remote working.

Derek Cawley, a consultant spinal surgeon, told Late Breakfast with Mark Cagney that he and his colleagues have seen a trend since the pandemic began.

He said: “I asked how many had seen an increased incident of presentations of people with back pain and neck pains – certainly over 50% of the physiotherapists overall, with an [even] higher number among those in community or private practice.

“What we found with at least two-thirds of these presentations were because people were immobile for too long, or were not getting enough exercise.”

He said research suggests the ergonomics of the workplace – such as how we sit or desk height – can be a factor, but often less so than immobility.

He explained: “Whether we’re sitting on a kitchen chair, arm chair or office chair… unless we’re actually extending our spine, stretching our legs, getting our muscles moving… we’re not serving our bodies and in particular spinal health well.

“That’s what the evidence shows – that the most important thing we can do is get that exercise on a regular, routine basis.”

Find a routine

With another lockdown looming, Mr Cawley has a few tips for people working from home to ensure they help keep their back and spine healthy.

He said: “It’s really important we identify a routine that a person can do, on their own each day, in terms of extending their spines and extending their hips.”

While details of many great exercises are readily available online, Mr Cawley said it’s important to stick to reputable websites.

The Eurospine Patient Line committee – a group which Mr Cawley chairs – has a website for patients with a range of exercises and advice.

Mr Cawley said the likes of the ‘plank’ or ‘Superman’ are well-known, simple and effective exercises.

He also observed: “It’s important to look at the ergonomics. You can change how you work in terms of using a stand-up desk perhaps… or using a gym ball instead of a chair for maybe 5-10 minutes on the hour.

“If it’s a meeting you need to have over the phone, you can put on your headphones and go for a walk and have that meeting while walking.

“For all those people who have a little bit of back pain and are almost better… there are preventive measures. I’d always advocate swimming, yoga, Pilates or whatever keeps that person in healthy mind and healthy body.”

However, he stressed there are treatment strategies out there for who are experience more significant or chronic pain – with specialist care often necessary for those with long-lasting or life-changing issues.

Main image: File photo. Picture by: Joe Giddens/PA Archive/PA Images