Across Canada and throughout other countries, we have all been asked to stay home to avoid the spread of COVID-19 and "flatten the curve." Although this is precisely what is needed at this time, and I strongly encourage you to stay safe and stay home, it is not always what is best for our spines. Why is that? With all of this time at home, we inevitably end up spending much more of our day sitting; we are going outside much less, and due to economic and health uncertainty, our stress levels may have increased dramatically.
The problem? This is not a natural state of our bodies. We are designed to be social beings and travel great distances.
The solution? A COVID-19 vaccine. Until this happens, let's supercharge your spine while working from home!
Now is the perfect opportunity to do all the things you've wanted, including fixing your posture. We all want to come out of this more robust, and these tips below will go along way in ensuring your back is taken care of.
Tip #1 - Stand while you work
The standing desk not only reduces back pain and stress, but it can also lower your risk of weight gain, lowers your heart rate and may improve overall energy levels. I love the standing desk and recommend it to my patients because it not only makes working better; it also forces me to take frequent breaks and provide variety to my body posture.
Mistake: People think they are too expensive
Standing desks are a great way to negate some of the harmful effects of sitting and you don't have to break the bank during these tough economic times to own one. Amazon and other online retailers have standing desks ranging from $200-$500, however, this is not your only option.
Why buy an expensive standing desk when architects, designers and housebuilders have been making them for you for hundreds of years. Find a spot that has an elevated surface already in your house such as a shelf or countertop. You could also add to this by putting a pile of books or a sturdy box on your desk. Although it has been shown to increase productivity, people always tell me: "I can't get the same amount of work done." My solution: If you sit at your desk for 7 hours/day, slowly increase the standing/sitting ratio until you're standing more than sitting!
When you're 6'4, it's not easy to find a standing desk with the monitor at eye-level and simultaneously keeping elbows at 90 degrees. Solution: Don't stress. When I'm reading or video watching, I raise the monitor with some old boxes. When it's time to type, I'll lower it down to get my elbows at 90.
Tip #2 - Take frequent breaks
Although you might think you're more productive by plowing through your work nonstop, it has been shown that getting up, moving around and taking breaks makes you more efficient. Not only do breaks provide a positive cognitive effect on learning, memory and creativity; they also have a substantial impact on your spine. Give your eyes, brain and back a break and change your position. Dr. Stuart McGill agrees.
Mistake: People aren't moving on their breaks
The biggest mistake I see when taking a break is that people will go on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest...but they won't move! There are so many different break options, but the key is to get up. Here are some options for you to try:
Physical breaks: Do 30 air squats, 10 push-ups or 15 wall angels.
Productive break: Get some cleaning, cooking or laundry done.
Social break: Find a roommate, partner to chat with or give somebody a call to build up your social IQ (and do so while standing!).
Solution: Take Microbreaks
I recommended taking a 2-5 minute break every 30 minutes and don't go more than 60 minutes sitting in one spot. This way you are frequently mobilizing and changing positions and get the reward of a break more often.
Tip #3 - Sit with "Good Posture"
Good posture can help reduce strain on your neck and spine. There's no question that certain postures can make our spine more vulnerable than others; however, this is by far the most controversial tip. It is much better for your spine to change positions; turn left, turn right, stand, slouch (what a taboo word!) than it is to always to hold the "perfect posture".
Mistake: People feel they need to sit with "perfect posture" or buy an expensive chair
Unless money is of no issue to you, don't waste your hard-earned dollars on an expensive "ergonomic" chair. The chair you have will work just fine! As well, don't be discouraged if you are not always holding "perfect posture." Your body has developed over millions of years, and it's not a malfunction in the system when the body wants to change positions, it is the system!
Solution: Listen to your body
Yes, it's good to be in a neutral spine, but listen to your body when it wants to change positions and change positions frequently.
Contrary to what your 3rd-grade teacher may have told you, fidgeting, slouching and changing positions is a natural response of the body. Listen to what your body is telling you, and if you're fidgeting too much, it's likely a sign to get up and move.
Tip #4 - Move!
Oh, where do I begin? Movements (pun intended) such as 'exercise is medicine', and 'movement is medicine' are gaining more and more traction. Moving has shown benefits for our physical health and mental well-being, but it also allows us to live longer, control our weight and relieve our pain. It's safe to say that most of you already know this, but there is still a feeling of stress and obligation associated with exercise.
Mistake: People think they need to run a marathon or do a 3-hour workout
People are often discouraged because they didn't do the "60-minute booty blast", the marathon run or the long workout they were hoping to. As a result, they end up skipping their workout entirely, which subsequently leads us to make poor nutrition and sleep decisions.
Solution: Move in any capacity
Get up from your chair and move. It's that simple, and I promise your spine will thank you! You're not less productive, you're more productive, and you're saving your health in the process. Two solutions I often recommend are:
1) Find your passion. Find something you love to do - gardening, walking, weight lifting, curling, cycling and many more. You get bonus points for doing it with others.
2) Add movement to your entire day. This means getting up from your chair, taking quick walks, doing laundry, cooking or switching from a sitting to a standing desk.
I know you can do this.
For those of you struggling, just put one foot in front of the other.
Tip #5: Add variety to your week
Variety is the spice of life. Whether it be in the kitchen, in your hairstyles or with movements, variety is the key. If you love yoga and can bend into a pretzel, it's probably time you tried some strength training. If you're a chicken, rice and broccoli person, perhaps going rouge and trying a vegetarian chilli. For you desk workers, take frequent breaks that involve standing.
Mistake: People sit all day and then sit all night
I talk to many patients, and they tell me about their cool collection hobby or all the video editing they do for their Youtube page. Although awesome, these are usually people that work 9-5 on their keister and than remain there all evening working on their hobby.
Solution: Find hobbies that involve moving
Hobbies are great, but there are so many things you can do while being active. If we're looking to spare our spines, add variety to your life. Hobbies like gardening, walking and playing with our kids involve the opposite muscles that we use when we sit. This will add balance to your spines and prepare your back muscles for the traitorous act of sitting you'll do the next day.
*Note: sleeping doesn't count as sitting hours - do this as much as needed.
"Perfect posture" doesn't exist. I like my desks a little higher to raise the monitor. The tradeoff is elbow and wrist positions, which are technically not ergonomically correct. In reality, you need to listen to your body and adapt accordingly.
Here are my 5 top tips for supercharging your back while staying safe and staying home:
- Try a standing desk
- Take frequent breaks
- Sit with good posture
- Move and;
- Add variety to your week
What you said:
I had pretty bad back and neck pain for the longest time, and after four treatments working with Dr. Marc, I was able to improve my back pain drastically. I now have strategies and exercises in place to help me with the rest of my life. I highly recommend Dr. Marc. ---PG
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Dr. Marc Bijman, BSc HK, DC
Dr. Marc is a chiropractor, content creator and entrepreneur. His mission is to get you out of pain so you can do the things you love to do. In his spare time, Dr. Marc enjoys exercising, learning new things and being with others.
*Quick note*. Great minds think alike and CBC and Dr. Stuart McGill recently published an article the next day detailing some helpful low back tips. As well, Dr. McGill detailed his advice on posture to reduce back pain and stress.
All information above is for your knowledge and should not be taken as clinical advice. Always talk to your local MSK expert before initiating any strategies