COVID and Your Back

By Julie Tashner, PT and Ann Morley, OTR/CLT |

You feel a gnawing soreness at your neck or shoulders, or perhaps your back or arms, as you continue to click and type away at your keyboard.  Why is this happening? What can you do about it? Currently many of us are working, socializing, or studying from home, and not everyone has a home office set up.

To help you feel better, we will first explain a little about why this could be happening. Dr. James Cyriax, an orthopedic medicine expert and the author of the Textbook of Orthopedic Medicine, teaches us that the lumbar and cervical curves in our backs protect the spine and its ligaments from excessive strain.

Another noted spine therapist and founder of the McKenzie Institute, Robin McKenzie, confirms that the flexed or “slumped” sitting posture places higher pressure on the intervertebral discs. Poor sitting posture, or slumping, causes certain types of back pain and usually worsens others.

The key to comfortable sitting and working is maintaining correct posture. Additionally, frequent changes in posture, even if only slight, can be made. So believe it or not, that squirming elementary student you remember was likely onto something!

Here are a few great tips to help you have better posture and less back pain if you are working (or studying) at home:

> Get out of your chair and move around at least every 45 minutes; gently stretch or reach in opposite directions five times.

> Avoid staying for lengthy times in a slumped upper and low back posture; use a lumbar support snug against your back to maintain an appropriate lumbar (low back) curve.

> Place your computer monitor (or if using laptop elevate with box, stack of books or ream of paper), if possible, between 20 and 30 inches in front of your eyes. The top of your monitor should be slightly lower than eye level and tipped 10 to 20 degrees to keep head upright and avoid strained forward head position.

> Keep feet flat on the floor or slightly angled on a foot rest with your knees and hips near 90 degree angles.

> Your chair seat should support your legs without excessive pressure on the back of your thighs; attempt to have two to four inches between the front of the chair and the hollow of your knees.

> Your elbows should be nearly 90 degrees as your wrist and hand are placed nearly straight or gently above the home row of your keyboard.

> Use a separate keyboard and mouse with your laptop, if available, with your hands and wrist relaxed when using it.

> If available, use a stylus or alternate fingers for texting, consider using recipe stand to hold your device, avoiding overuse of finger joints.

> Avoid working on bed or couch. If you must, support your device (i.e. tablet, smartphone, Ipad, laptop) on a supported surface such as stacked pillows.

> Consider standing up while you work once in a while. While do so, follow the same guidelines above for your upper body.

Using these suggestions, we hope you find comfort while working more efficiently.  We wish wellness to you and your students at home.


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