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A pain in the neck: how to ease back pain from hybrid working

Hybrid working has brought a lot of positives, but back health is not one of them. Here, Charlie Thompson from The Massage Company, shares his tips for reducing work related back pain.

Hybrid working has brought a lot of positives, but back health is not one of them. Here, Charlie Thompson from The Massage Company, shares his tips for reducing work related back pain.

More of us are splitting our work time between home and the office, and while this ‘hybrid’ approach is having a positive impact on and work-life balance, it’s wreaking havoc on our back health.

Back pain is a common ailment in the UK – as many as one 1 in 6 adults are thought to suffer from it – but that doesn’t mean you have to live with it. Here, Charlie Thompson, co-founder and CEO of The Massage Company, shares his tips to reduce back pain when hybrid working.

The Massage Company

Get active

This is easier said than done in today’s sedentary society: we’ve never felt more ‘busy’ while being less ‘active’. Long periods of physical inactivity at our desks – day in, day out – cause back pain by weakening the muscles and reducing overall fitness, which puts pressure on our joints and skeletal system.

The problem is that once you have back pain, often the last thing you feel like doing is high-intensity exercise. Yet even small changes to your daily routine can help. Make sure you take time to go for a walk, stretch and generally move around at fixed points in the day. Even if you feel like you don’t have time in your busy schedule, short stints of movement during the working day can not only reduce back pain but improve concentration and productivity, too.

Scheduling aerobic exercise a few times a week has also been found to improve chronic lower pain by increasing core strength, boosting blood flow and nutrients to the soft tissues in the back, and improving flexibility. If you are suffering from back pain, you might want to avoid high impact exercise like running in favour of swimming or stationary cycling until you feel some improvement.

Sit up straight

Both how you sit and how long you sit for can affect your back health. A study found that participants who reported sitting too much (10 hours or more a day) were more likely to experience either lower or upper back pain, yet it’s posture that’s thought to be the most important workplace factor.

‘Office syndrome’ is a collection of symptoms – including neck, shoulder and back tension – caused by poor posture at work, but it can be easily fixed with minor changes like adjusting your screen height, making your knees level or slightly below your hips while you work, and keeping your head and neck straight with your shoulders relaxed. If you’re in the habit of crossing one leg over the other while you work, try to break it; it can cause your pelvis to rotate slightly, which over time can aggravate lower back pain.

Even better, stand up

Standing desks have become more popular, and initial studies have found they can reduce back pain in workers who would otherwise be sitting down all day. Participants in one study reported improvement in lower back pain of up to 32%, while another found that just four weeks of using a flexible sit/stand desk reduced upper back and neck pain by 54%.

Standing desks aren’t cheap, but for home working, there is an alternative. During lockdown, people found that their ironing board could become a versatile desk space, that could easily be raised or lowered for sitting or standing.

Invest in your home working space

If sitting for long periods is bad for your back, sitting at a kitchen table crouched over a laptop is worse. Our home working habits have increased back and neck pain thanks to uncomfortable chairs and poor Display Screen Equipment (DSE) setup affecting our posture.

If you will be spending more time working from home in the long-term, invest in your space. It doesn’t need to be as expensive as a new desk chair or display set up: addressing the height of your seat and desk with household items, or adding an inexpensive lumbar support and footrest, could be enough to ease back pain on the days you work from home. One last thing – avoid working from the sofa whenever you can. It might feel more comfortable in the short term, but it will make your posture worse and exacerbate back problems.

Correct how you carry

Another impact of dividing our work between home and the office is that many of us now carry our ‘desk’ with us. Laptops, notebooks, resources and print outs are no longer left filed in our drawers at the end of the day; we’re moving them between work and home several times a week, and it’s taking a toll on our back, neck and shoulders.

There are several ways to address this: firstly, think about what you’re carrying around and digitise as much as possible so that you’re not hauling heavyweight bags on the train and tube. Secondly, think about how you’re carrying. Putting too much weight on one shoulder regularly can shift your spinal alignment and cause muscle tension, creating back and neck pain as well as headaches. A structured backpack that distributes weight evenly is better, but try not to exceed a weight of 1.3kg.

Treat your back pain

So many people consider back pain as a symptom of modern living and working, but there are things that you can do to address it at its root, instead of just taking painkillers. Research in 2011 found that massage therapy was one of the most effective complimentary treatments for chronic back pain.

Participants reported that weekly massages over a 10-week period resulted in benefits lasting at least six months. At The Massage Company, over 72% of our members visit us primarily for back, neck and shoulder pain, with members predominantly visiting once or twice a month.

If you’re suffering from work-related back pain, don’t put up with it: make positive changes to your work environment and habits, and get the treatment you need to ease any pain you experience.

Book a spa day with The Massage Company

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