Whether you have an expensive desk chair with butt pads, or you work from the couch slumped over like a blob, sitting in front of a computer for hours every day without even a commute to stretch your legs can cause some serious back pain. Nearly 65 million Americans report sporadic back pain, and 8% of all adults have chronic back pain – could you be one of them?
While you can’t reach into your brain and turn off the pain receptors yourself, there are some exercises for busy individuals to relieve chronic back pain. There are also items one can purchase to loosen up those muscles.
You’ve heard it before, stretching can alter the course of back pain by leaps and bounds. Even other parts of your body might relate to your back pain, like tight hamstrings, calves, or triceps. In a 2016 meta-study from Basel, Switzerland, full-body stretching can help “mobilize the spine”, improving range of motion and decreasing muscle stiffness – all leading to less back pain.
But it’s easier said than done – especially the first few weeks of daily exercise, in which tight muscles can cause a lot of pain. But starting with simple stretches, such as a low impact YouTube video or exercises you can do from your desk, can make all the difference. Put a reminder in your phone to stretch for ten minutes twice a day, and in a week, you may notice a huge difference.
Muscle and nerve stimulators can also be a good method of back pain relief if used sparingly, and correctly. The most common pain device is a TENS unit, which causes “electrical impulses [to] flood the nervous system”, which prevents the transmission of “pain signals to the spinal cord”. TENS systems are available for back pain specifically, and are generally regarded as safe, but can be a more expensive option.
You’ve heard the hype about the Theragun – and it’s well deserved. a Theragun or other less expensive options might be worth looking into. A 2014 article in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research says vibration therapy given to prevent muscle soreness shows “clinically early reduction of pain”. However, be careful with the Theragun – overstimulation can cause the skin to be itchy, and in some rare cases, one can even have a “vibration allergy.”
A tried and true method for back pain relief is one of the simplest: heat. By dilating blood vessels, heat therapy relaxes tense muscles, providing pain relief. Heat therapy has been reported as early as 500 B.C. in ancient Egypt, and as recently as the last heating pad ordered on Amazon.
It’s more common to alternate ice and heat, as any athlete could tell you. But if your back pain originates from tense muscles and stiff joints rather than a sports injury, the rule of thumb is “ice for inflammation, heat for tension.”
If you want to get fancy with it, try not only a heating pad that fits on your chair but a heated massage pad. While more expensive than a bath or hot water bottle, you get more bang for your buck.
Good posture breeds good health, as they say – and bad posture can breed things like scoliosis, herniated discs, and other spinal issues. Slouching also will eventually cause degenerative disc disease in one’s back, which could lead to painful bulging or herniated discs, or back surgery.
You can practice good posture with daily exercises on something as simple as a posture correction app. There are even devices that notify you when you start slouching, or for more serious slouchers, different kinds of back braces.
Try elevating your computer monitor slightly to keep from craning your neck, or getting an auxiliary keyboard to put in a comfortable place, to keep from rolling your shoulders forward when typing.
Unfortunately, whether or not you already own a fancy orthotic chair, sitting in the same position all day can cause muscle stiffness, neck soreness, and of course, back pain. Not all of us can work from our yoga mats, so it’s imperative to find a solution that fits in your home office.
Try a chair that allows you multiple positions, for instance, a sitting and kneeling chair, where you can switch it up every few hours. You’ll feel less stiff, and have increased blood flow as the majority of your body weight rests on a different area.
6. Muscle strengthening
One reason your joints and muscles might be in pain is that they’ve weakened over the course of quarantine, without a gym to attend or even a backpack to carry into work. The aforementioned 2016 study, it’s shown that something as simple as walking can increase strength in “deep trunk muscles”, decreasing chronic back pain.
There are some exercises one can do to strengthen back muscles, but shoulder and neck muscles are just as important. If traditional back strengthening exercises are too difficult, or you don’t have space, there are always exercises you can do from your desk.
7. Professional help
It’s not always possible to fix back issues with just some at-home help, and you may have a more serious problem, especially if you find pain radiating to your extremities or shooting pains down your back. While home remedies work up to a point, it’s important to keep your body in the best condition possible, especially during a pandemic.
So while a listicle with various quick-fixes is one option, going to a doctor that aids patients with back pain are another. Often they’ll be able to communicate with you through telemedicine, especially if booked through Zocdoc. However, other options are also available if traditional medicine isn’t in your budget or your lifestyle, and acupuncturists, chiropractors, and for some, even reiki healers can be trustworthy providers.