Since the pandemic, work-from-home back pain has been on the rise. A recent poll from Mind Your Back found that nearly 64% of young adults encountered new back pain since starting remote work. And that’s not counting the neck and shoulder pain that can come with prolonged time behind a desk.
As a whole, back pain is tough to avoid —and working from your kitchen table, living room couch, or bed can make it even harder.
So, which WFH tips can help you dodge back pain from sitting too long? Read on to learn about the best steps you can take.
Why Do We Get Back Pain From Sitting All Day?
Here’s why your back can start hurting a few hours into your WFH shift:
Sitting, Slouching, and Poor Posture
Sitting might feel relaxing, but it can actually put up to 90% more pressure on the spine than standing.
That’s because a seated position puts extra stress on your spine’s discs — or the cushiony tissue between your vertebrae. Plus, poor posture can strain your back and core muscles, and even cause inflammation in your joints.
Slumping over your desk also isn’t the only position that can be tough on your body. Sitting on a bed, constantly leaning on one leg while standing, or lying on your belly can also put excess strain on your spine.
Other Underlying Causes
Poor posture is often the culprit behind back pain, but it’s not the only factor that comes into play. As you get older, you can become more prone to wear-and-tear, physical changes, and health conditions that affect your back. These include:
- Muscle loss. Age, certain medical conditions, and a long-term sedentary lifestyle can weaken the core muscles that support your spine.
- Sciatica, which happens when the sciatic nerve becomes compressed or pinched.
- Herniated discs, which occur when the pillowy discs in your spine become injured or torn.
- Muscle strains. Sitting too long can lead to muscle strains in your upper and lower back.
- Weight gain, which can put excess stress on your lower spine.
Upper Back Pain Vs. Lower Back Pain
If you’ve been experiencing back pain from sitting at a desk, where you feel it matters.
For example, your computer monitor’s height can play a role in upper body pain. That’s because a screen that sits too low — or too high — can cause you to tilt your head at odd angles, straining your upper back and neck.
On the other hand, the source of low back pain is often poor posture or weak core muscles. It may also arise from a pinched nerve, disc problems, or another condition that affects the lower spine.
How to Stop Back Pain From Sitting Too Long
Back pain from prolonged sitting can be debilitating, especially when you have to spend hours each day working on a computer. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to fend off WFH backaches for good.
Give these tips a try for better spine health and pain relief:
1. Create an Ergonomic Workstation
Step one in relieving back pain is to create a spine-friendly workspace. You can do this by:
Investing In a Supportive Chair
Spending eight hours in a chair each day means you’ll need proper spine support. And if you’ve been working at your kitchen table or using the same old office chair from 15 years ago, it may be time for an upgrade.
When browsing for a new chair, look for one that supports the natural “S” curve of your spine. Beyond that, choose a chair with an adjustable height and a supportive headrest. This way, you can avoid straining your neck and upper back while you work.
Using a Standing Desk
Another way to support your spine is by using a standing desk — and thankfully, this doesn’t mean you have to be on your feet all day. Instead, simply alternate from your seated position to your standing desk every hour or so. This is known as a sit-stand routine, and it can offer various benefits for your body.
For example, switching between sitting and standing can help you decrease your odds of weight gain and muscle loss. Not only that, but it can reduce the time you spend hunched over your screen, thus helping you fend off pain from poor posture.
Adjusting Your Computer Height
As mentioned earlier, the wrong computer height can put immense pressure on your neck, shoulders, and upper spine. Fortunately, adjusting your computer screen so that it’s at (or around) eye level can take some of the strain off your body.
To do this, you can invest in a laptop or monitor stand, or even use a stack of books if you don’t have anything else on hand.
2. Correct Your Posture
Poor posture is often at the core of work-related pain. Luckily, you can help yourself sit straighter and avoid slouching by remembering a few simple tips while you work.
As a first step, it can help to keep a mental checklist of what good posture looks like. A few times throughout the day, ask yourself:
- Are my shoulders pulled back?
- Is my head in alignment with my spine?
- Are my knees bent at a 90-degree angle?
- Is my spine in its natural “S” curvature?
- Are my feet flat on the floor?
Aside from that, you can use objects to support your lower spine, such as a throw pillow or rolled-up towel. And if you tend to move around with your laptop during the day, be sure to re-check your posture every time you switch workspaces.
3. Take Breaks to Walk Around
Every hour or so, you can take some “sitting stress” off your body by getting up and walking around. This helps get your blood flowing, loosens your muscles, and gives your spine a chance to decompress.
Aside from that, early research has shown that regular, brisk walking can reduce low back pain — meaning that starting a walking routine outside the workday could help you find even more relief.
4. Stretch at Your Desk
A desk-stretching routine is one of the easiest ways to prevent muscle tension and back pain. And the best part is, you can do it while you work.
To get started, try one of these simple WFH stretches every 30 to 60 minutes:
Simple Upper Body Stretch
This exercise can help you soothe the tension in your upper back, shoulder blades, and neck. To begin, you’ll need a medium-sized ball or a wrapped blanket. Then:
- Place the ball between your upper back and your chair.
- Take a deep breath, and bend your upper body back against the ball. Your arms should be out to the side with your elbows bent, in line with your shoulders. You can either point your hands toward the sky or rest them on the sides of your neck.
- Lean back into a stretch and hold for five seconds.
- Repeat as needed throughout the day.
Seated Lateral Trunk Stretch
The seated lateral trunk stretch is a great exercise for reducing strain in the upper body. Specifically, it eases tension in the latissimus dorsi muscles — aka the broad muscles stretching from your middle back to your sides.
Here are the steps:
- In a seated position, place your left hand on your hip and raise your right arm straight up towards the ceiling.
- Slowly bend to the left until you feel a stretch in your side.
- Hold for 15 seconds.
- Repeat with the other side.
5. Use Exercise as a Prevention Tool
While exercise is generally good for your body, it can offer specific benefits for preventing and relieving WFH back pain.
For example, resistance training (which can include weightlifting, pilates, or even yoga) can reinforce the muscles in your back while boosting your range of motion. And aerobic exercise — the kind that gets your breathing and heart rate up — can improve the circulation in the soft tissue around your spine.
Beyond that, a 2015 study found that core-focused movements offered some of the greatest benefits for low back pain. This means that stability and ab-focused workouts might also be worth including in your routine.
To start reaping these benefits for yourself, you can try the following exercises:
Low Impact Cardio
Doing cardio just a few times per week can positively impact the way your body feels and functions. Some low-impact options include:
- Using an elliptical machine
Try Shoulder Squeezes for Your Upper Back
Shoulder squeezes are an easy movement that can improve your posture and strengthen your upper back. Simply:
- Bring your arms up and out to your sides as if you’re about to stretch. Your elbows should be bent, with your hands pointing up.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold for 5 to 7 seconds.
- Repeat for three sets of 10 to 12 reps.
Use the Bird Dog Exercise for Core Strength
The bird dog exercise is a core-focused movement that works the abs, glutes, lower back, and thighs. Here are the steps:
- Begin on your hands and knees on a yoga mat or other soft surface.
- Straighten out your left arm in front of you.
- With your arm still in the air, lift and straighten your right leg out behind you.
- Brace your core and hold this pose for 5 seconds.
- Slowly bring your arm and leg back down, and repeat with the other side.
- Continue to alternate sides for a total of 10 to 12 reps.
Home Remedies to Ease WFH Back Pain
When it comes to work-from-home back pain, prevention is key. But if you’ve been plagued with an achy back for the past few days (or weeks), home remedies may be able to help.
Here are a few options for in-the-moment back pain relief:
Give Yourself a Soothing Home Massage
Massage is a powerful tool for breaking up tension in the upper back, neck, and shoulders. On top of that, research has shown that it can decrease discomfort and disability related to lower back pain.
Of course, it’s not exactly easy to give yourself a hands-on back massage. But the good news is that you can get around this by using specific tools and techniques.
Here are three self-massage tips that can help:
Use An Oscillating Body Massager
Oscillating body massagers such as the MedMassager MMB05 come equipped with wide, flat massage surfaces. This design makes them ideal to use in between your body and a high-backed chair — meaning you can even massage your back while you work. Here’s how:
- Turn the massager on to a light-pressure setting.
- Place it between your back and the chair.
- Lean into the massager and allow it to warm up your muscles for one minute.
- Dial up the pressure for a deeper massage. Feel free to adjust the device as needed to target specific problem areas, such as your lower back, shoulders, etc.
- Massage for 10 to 15 minutes, up to a few times per day.
Foam Roll Your Upper Back
Foam rollers are popular tools for tackling post-workout soreness, but that’s not all they can do. For those who work at a desk, a good foam rolling session can help combat upper back pain from sitting too long.
To get started, here’s one exercise that can ease stiffness and pain in the upper back:
- Place your foam roller between your middle back and a sturdy wall, and lean into it.
- Slowly lower your body so that the foam roller rolls up and along your upper back muscles.
- Continue to move up and down with moderate pressure. You can also lean side to side to reach muscles further away from the spine.
- Repeat for a total of 2 to 3 minutes.
Use Your Knuckles for Your Lower Back
Without any tools, it can be tough to massage your own back muscles. However, you can use your knuckles to give yourself a relaxing lower back massage. Simply follow these steps:
- Standing in a comfortable position, clench both of your hands into fists.
- Move your fists behind your back, aligning your knuckles with your lower back muscles.
- Use moderate pressure to glide up and down the muscles.
- Continue to massage for 3 to 5 minutes, repeating as needed during the day.
Find Relief with Heat and Cold
Depending on the nature of your back pain, heat and cold can both work well to bring some relief. A warm compress or heated blanket can help relax the muscles and facilitate healing. On the flip side, cold packs can work to ease inflammation and pain in especially tender areas.
Over-the-counter medications — such as ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen — are commonly recommended for muscle pain. Check with your doctor to see which option may be best for you.
Practice Healthy Sleep Posture
When it comes to spine health, proper sleep posture is essential. The right sleeping position can give your spine a chance to decompress and heal after a stressful day. And coupled with the tips above, it could get you on track to feeling better faster.
Sleep positions that support back health include:
- Lying on your back with a pillow that supports your head, neck, and spine alignment.
- Side-sleeping with your legs slightly pulled up towards your chest and a pillow between your knees.
When to See Your Doctor for Back Pain
In many cases, poor posture and prolonged sitting are the causes of work-from-home back pain.
However, there are times when it may stem from a more serious condition. Be sure to check with your doctor if you’re experiencing any of these signs:
- Your pain comes with other symptoms, such as a fever, weakness, or tingling.
- Your pain persists for over two weeks and/or interferes with your daily activities.
- You have unexplained weight loss.
- You’re having trouble controlling your bladder or bowels.
If you’re like many people who work remotely, ending each day with back pain might feel inevitable. Luckily, a few simple strategies can soothe your discomfort and lower your odds of facing work-related backaches in the future. You can try:
- Curating a comfortable, back-friendly workspace by choosing a supportive chair and adjusting your screen height
- Practicing better posture
- Trying specific exercises to boost your flexibility and strength
- Using a daily desk-stretching routine to ease stiff, achy muscles