Working from home has become the new norm for many of us – swapping our commutes and desks for sofas and cramped kitchen tables. It’s no wonder that come 2pm, your back is cruncher than a crisp bread and your shoulders ache something rotten.
Of the 32.6 million people in employment across the UK, only 8.7 million have ever worked from home in their current job. That’s less than 30% of the workforce. No wonder so many us are struggling with sore backs, poor sleep and sapped concentration – we’re just not used to this new reality.
You could buy yourself a proper desk and chiropractor-approved chair but let’s be honest, it’ll cost a fortune and take weeks to arrive.
Fortunately, however, there are small things you can do to reduce the burn while you’re at home. Who knows, they may even help when you eventually return to the office.
Target the pain
Tom Saville, visiting lecturer at Leeds Trinity University, tells us:
‘Your body is a product of your environment. If you don’t move, your body becomes very good at not moving!
‘Sitting still for 9 hours is far from ideal as when you do come to move, you are often faced with lower back pain. When we sit still for long periods of time the key muscle groups are not activated (switched on) and we don’t do build the strength and resilience in our core and lower body for good quality movement.’
In other words, the best way to prevent backache is to move.
Tom has given us three exercises that he recommends doing for avoiding and reducing lower back pain.
Glute bridge (areas worked: hamstrings, glutes (bum) and core)
Lie flat on the floor with knees bent and heels on the floor.
Squeeze your glutes and drive your weight through your heels pressing your hips upwards to create a straight line from your shoulder to knee.
Pause for 2 seconds at the top and lower your hips down to the start position.
Repeat 10 times.
Deadbug (area worked – core)
Lie flat on the floor with your arms straight up above your chest and knees bent 90 degrees starting above your hips.
Pressing your lower back into the floor, extend one arm overhead and one leg away from your core. Bring both back to the starting position and go again on the opposite limbs. Try to keep the core engaged throughout to bring limbs back towards the centre.
Repeat 5 times on each side.
Birddog (areas worked: core, spinae erectors)
To begin, get on your hands and knees. Squeeze your belly button in so that your core is switched on.
Lift and extend your right leg behind you while keeping your hips level. Hold that position for a full five seconds. Now switch to the other leg.
For an added challenge, try lengthening the time you hold each lift or try lifting and extending your opposite arm in front of you.
Try not to allow your lower back muscles to sag and don’t lift your arms or legs any higher than the low back position can maintain.
Some simple yogic stretches can also help:
Childs Pose is a great hip opener.
Tight hips can often make sore backs worse.
Begin by getting into an all-fours position. Toes touching, widen your knees so that they are shoulder-width apart and then sit back – chest coming to your knees and arms stretched in front you with your palms into the floor.
Cat-Cow is fantastic at preventing back pain.
Make your way to the ground on your hands and knees. Your hands should be underneath your shoulder points and your knees underneath your hips.
On an inhale, lower the belly and lift the crown of your head so that your body makes the shape of an arch. On an exhale, reverse this by bringing the belly up to meet the spine and curling your tail bone under.
Stretch it out
Stretching several times a day can really help to relieve tension – especially if you start the day with a good old bend.
Be careful about over-stretching, however. It should feel good and restorative, not painful.
Get out of bed
Working in bed may feel nice initially but it’ll make back matters worse. Always favour a chair that encourages you to sit upright and if you need them, add some cushions to elevate the spine and provide some support.
Chair over sofa
Don’t worry about slumping in a chair…as long as you’re not planning to sit like that all day. Just keep changing it up – walk around the house, make a cup of tea, take a proper lunch break.
Crouching in a chair isn’t ideal but it’s better than working on the sofa for two reasons. The first is that your posture is bound to be awful on a sofa. The second is that because you think you’re really comfy, you’ll be less tempted to move about.
If you do have to work on the sofa, set a timer to move every hour.
Invest in a keyboard
The reason so many of us are suffering at home from aches and pains is that we’re crouched over our tiny laptops.
Getting a keyboard and mouse however, prevents that hunching and gets us sitting up taller.
Make your own laptop stand
Your laptop should be at eye level. If you don’t have a keyboard, it can be tricky to raise your computer to the right position. Instead, make your own standing desk by using an ironing board, kitchen counter or chest of drawers.
Want to sit down? Sit on the floor with your laptop up on a sofa or coffee table. Just be careful not to collapse into your spine.