Managing Lower Back Pain when Working from Home
Often when we get lower back pain, it is because a particular structure or tissue is getting irritated or inflamed and this can make our lower back particularly sensitive. It's important to recognise that the pain you may feel in your back is NOT an accurate indicator of what is happening to the tissues, but that pain is actually an alarm system of sorts. Unfortunately, sometimes these pain signals can be amplified by the nervous system due to things like stress, lack of sleep, anxiety and also by your expectations and belief about what that pain is. (you can read more about this here https://www.balancedosteopathy.co.uk/single-post/2020/03/05/Why-does-it-hurt-Pain-explained)
Despite your pain right now, your back is actually still very strong and resilient, it's currently just sensitised.
The best thing you can do for your lower back when it is feeling sore and painful is to try to move as normally as possible - when we try to guard our movements and essentially overprotect the back pain, we make things worse. Muscle spasm gets worse because we don't move properly, and the pain signal alarm system kicks in even earlier because we've been over protecting/ shielding our back from normal day to day movements. This is the first thing I say to all of my patients with lower back pain, regardless of if their pain is acute or chronic, irrespective of what structures are involved, is to move as normally as possible - and typically as a result, we find patients recover much quicker.
Changes you can make right now to your set up
1) Make sure your knees are lower than your hips when you're seated
2) Sit so that your stomach is close to your desk - if your chair has armrests that don't allow you to get this close, consider removing the armrests or swapping the chair for another you have in the house.
3) Feet should be planted on the floor.
4) Avoid crossing your legs for long periods - sitting like this for a prolonged period of time can increase strain through one side of the lower back, making it more sensitive at the end of the day
5) If you're sitting on a dining table chair or hard stool, sit on a cushion to reduce pressure on the lumbosacral plexus - often a hard seat can place unnecessary pressure on the nerves that traverse through the pelvis, fine for short periods but for hours every day, you may find relief simply by sitting on a softer surface
6) Take regular breaks from the desk
7) Spend some time working in a standing position - you are not confined to sitting at a desk, consider spending 20 minutes every so often in a standing position, working at your laptop if that's available to you.
Stretches you can do throughout, or at the end of the working day, to alleviate lower back discomfort
1) Seated piriformis stretch
2) Seated knee hug
3) Hip flexor stretch
4) Childs pose with side stretch - Come in to child's pose as pictured. Slowly creep the hands over to one corner, keeping grounded through the hips (use a pillow between your bottom and your feet if this is not comfortable), you should feel a stretch through the side of the waist and back. Now repeat on the opposite side.
5) Supine twist
Each of these stretches can be held for about 30 seconds on each side.
When to seek help
Hopefully, the advice given and exercises provided should go a long way to improving your symptoms. By making adjustments to your set up and taking regular breaks, the back should get less irritated whilst you are working and gradually improve with time. If however, you are experiencing pins and needles, numbness or radiating pain into one or both of the legs, you should have your condition assessed by a healthcare professional for more specific advice. Currently, we are offering video consultations for patients who need to consult with an osteopath, please book an appointment online via this link.