Is your spine able to support you through FMCO 3.0?
Attributed to Dr Lim Sze Wei, Consultant Orthopaedic, Spine and Trauma Surgeon, ALTY Orthopaedic Hospital
The past year has seen a transition to work from home practices by companies stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. While these practices have played a big role in enabling remote work options, improving flexibility and keeping us safe indoors, we need to start evaluating some associated health risks that have emerged in the last 1.5 years.
According to a study published in the International Journal of Health Sciences and Research, 70.5% participants between ages 18-65 years working from home reported discomfort and pain, especially in the lower back and neck region. This information while not surprising, is definitely alarming, as more and more young professionals report increasing incidences of pain in the back and neck region.
At ALTY Orthopaedic Hospital, we are seeing rising cases of back and neck problems in Malaysians between the 25-40 year age group, particularly in those who are working from home and spending long hours in front of their devices. With Malaysia entering another full Movement Control Order (FMC0 3.0), we can continue to see a rise in back and neck related disorders amongst young working professionals.
While most of us have a tendency to wave off these aches and pains, it is important to remember that these can manifest into severe long term degenerative problems of the spine such as slipped disc and sciatica pain leading to further discomfort. Fortunately, by changing certain lifestyle habits and paying more attention to your posture, you can reduce your risk of painful spine conditions in the future. If you have been working from home and find yourself having back and neck pain during FMC0 3.0, here are some factors to take into consideration.
Set up an adequate work station
In many instances, we see people working on their laptops for long hours while slouching on the couch or even lying on the bed complain of back and neck pain. This is the inevitable outcome of improper sitting and working positions.
As we get accustomed to extended periods of working from home, it becomes very important to have a proper work station set up that allows you to sit and work comfortably. While we might not be able to have a complete commercial set up, comprising ergonomic chairs etc. at home, in most cases a table and chair is good enough. You can even place a cushion at the back of your chair to support your spine while sitting.
Another key point, and this is definitely important to reduce incidences of neck pain, is how you angle your laptop or screen while working. An ideal laptop height and angle lets you view the screen without rotating or flexing your neck. Consider using a laptop stand or larger screen when working from home. One tip is to simply elevate the laptop with a stack of books.
Investing in a simple home office set up – a table, a chair, a stool and a laptop stand will go long way in supporting your back and neck while working from home.
Include stretches in your routine
Work from home practices have shifted movement related dynamics as working professionals remain glued to their desks and screens for longer hours. Sitting for such extended periods without proper posture is detrimental to not only your spine and back muscles, but for your overall health.
A good way to avoid aches and pains at the end of the day is to include some light stretching movements in your work day. Simple stretches like cat and cow posture, toe touches, leg and calf extensions and head rotations are good enough to begin with. Together, this simple routine done for a few counts can alleviate the stress in your back muscles, reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries and improve posture and muscle coordination.
Not only is stretching beneficial for your back, it is also a great way to take a break from the screen, improve blood circulation and mental stimulation.
Mind your posture
Typically, good posture is defined as a position when your ear, shoulder and pelvis are all aligned in one straight line. However, it is natural to lean forward while working on a laptop or sit in a slouched position. Slouching or incorrect posture is often the main culprit that can lead to injuries of the spine and back, especially in the younger demographic.
Often when working in a commercial set up, ergonomics can solve this problem. The challenge then is how we can maintain the same while working from home.
One way to maintain good posture at the desk is to provide your back and neck good support. Consider using a toadstool so that your feet are well supported, keep your elbows at a 90-degree angle as you work on your laptop and change your position a few hours to avoid slouching on the desk. Include regular intervals from the screen and walk around your workspace to keep your spine and back muscles active. You can also get a family member or friend to nudge you when you start slouching, so you can correct your sitting position.
Don’t ignore those aches and pains
Lastly and most importantly, if your pain continues to persist over 6 weeks, is accompanied by sensations of numbness, tingling and has started to spread to the hip, legs, foot region, consult your physician immediately.
In most cases, mechanical pain or pain that arises from incorrect postures, sitting for longer hours etc. improves if followed by periods of rest. If your pain has not improved after long resting periods and you experience other symptoms like loss of appetite, fever etc. it could be an indication of several other disorders including spinal infection. This requires proper diagnosis and further consultations in order to ensure that medical intervention is given at the right time.
Back related problems, more particularly, lower back related problems have been on a steady rise since work from home became a norm in the pandemic. While there are several factors that contribute to this – such as unlimited sunlight, perceived deficiency of Vitamin D, restricted movement – small steps and changes at home can prevent these issues from leading to other lifestyle complications.