Humans are creatures of habit. We love our patterns, but for the last three months, our routines have been thrown out the window, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. And that is one of the main reasons you might’ve experienced more back and hip pain during the quarantine, says Dr. Adam Brown of The Joint Chiropractic in League City.
“We are very routined people in general,” he says. “We sleep the same way; we typically have the same commute to work. And our body often adjusts to that, to a point.”
Transition periods, like moving houses or even getting outside more when the weather warms, can take toll on the body, he says. So, if you go from working every day in a restaurant or an office to being parked in front of your laptop at home on your sofa, you’re going to feel more tension and pain in your body.
Additionally, stress—and there is no doubt that these are stressful times—can manifest in more inflammation and pain. “When we’re preoccupied with stress, we do things differently,” Brown says. We have poorer sleeping habits and are less inclined to eat healthy foods, and then we up our caffeine intake, and might not exercise as often, he says, all of which can have a negative impact on the body.
We asked Brown, who’s been a chiropractor for 20 years, what we can do to combat back and sciatic pain—that's the nerve pain that shoots out of the hip or the lower back and can snake all the way down the leg into the foot, making sitting, standing, or even resting in certain positions pure agony—issues, both while working from home and as we begin the transition back to work putting on real pants and going to our physical places of employment again.
What changes can I implement while working at home?
Instead of doing anything drastic, Brown suggests trying to make your workspace at home similar to your workspace at the office, while also implementing small adjustments, which you’re more likely to keep. “It’s almost impossible to reproduce the same work environment,” Brown says, “but people can work with what they’ve got.”
If you have a firmer chair, sit upright in that. If the only chair you’ve got to work in at home is your recliner, Brown recommends rolling up a towel to add lumbar support.
At night, if you’re a side sleeper, sleep with a pillow between the knees to help with hip alignment. Brown also suggests a body pillow to help with shoulder alignment for people who spend all day on a computer.
What else should I be doing while working from home?
Brown says there are plenty of distractions based on the work right in front of you that can make us forget to get up and move around the house. The thing is, just staying locked in your work-from-home crouch all day almost guarantees shoulder, hip and back issues. To avoid that he suggests setting a timer every 15 or 30 minutes to get up from your chair. Do whatever works best for you, but leave your work space once an hour at a minimum.
When you do get up, do a shoulder roll and move your arms. Brown recommends a simple stretch of placing both hands together in front of you and reaching up above your head. “That one is great for the shoulders,” he says.
What other stretches should I be doing?
“First thing in the morning, I think everybody can benefit from pulling the knees to the chest one at a time,” Brown says. When you're still in bed, while hitting snooze on your alarm, take a couple minutes to draw your knees to your chest, one at a time. Follow this with a good sciatic stretch, pulling the knee up across the chest and to the opposite shoulder and holding there for 20 to 30 seconds, he says.
When you get out of bed, place your feet roughly hip-distance apart, and do some light lateral bends. Then, place one leg in front of the other, and do some light hip flexor stretches. Then separate the legs into a V-shape, then bend down and touch the floor to lightly stretch the groin.
“I would say it’s similar to when we were all children and fixing to go run track,” Brown says. “Just moderate, sensible hip and leg stretches are very beneficial.”
How should I prepare to go back to work?
It depends on the type of job you have, but Brown suggests for people to start mimicking the type of movement they would be doing every day a few days before going back to work to get your body used to the motions again. If your job requires you to climb a lot of ladders, go out and climb a ladder. Don’t have a ladder? Find a set of stairs.
However, he notes, if you're getting ready to go back to an office gig, he's not suggesting you should go start sitting in an office chair for eight hours a day to prepare. Instead, you should drink a lot of water—which will help with inflammation—eat well, and get plenty of rest right now, he says.
But most importantly, “movement is key.” Get up, and go exercise. Hopefully you didn't stop all physical fitness exercise while you were working from home. If you have continued to be active, keep it up. If you haven't, getting ready to get back into the swing of things might be a good reason to resume your workout routine as well. As for type of exercise, Brown says “Whatever you are going to do the most consistently and what you’re going to enjoy is probably the best exercise.”
What other advice should I follow?
Again, being active is crucial. Brown suggests doing the physical activities you enjoy doing, so if you like gardening, get outside and get in the dirt. If you want to try something new, ease yourself in. If you’re not a runner, Brown wouldn’t suggest you go out and run three miles. “But go out and walk a mile, and see what that does for you.”