If your home workspace is leaving you with an aching back, there are steps you can take to keep it from worsening. Here, Duke physiatrist Dr. Carolyn Keeler, DO, explains how to prevent back problems and when to see a doctor for relief.
Prevent Back Pain at Home
When it comes to back pain, take stock of your at-home workspace, and follow these best practices.
Listen to Your Body
Be aware of what your body is trying to tell you. For example, people with spinal stenosis may feel most comfortable sitting, whereas people with disc problems may feel the best standing. “There is really no ideal workstation for pain related to the spine,” Dr. Keeler said.
Use a Good Chair
When it comes to back health, choose function over form. Your office chair might be stylish, but it’s not doing you any favors if it’s not supporting your spine. Create 90-degree angles at your hips and knees when seated.
Make your workstation more comfortable by using towels or pillows to support your lower back, repurposing a box or storage container as a footrest, or propping up your laptop on books. This will keep your head up and your eyes looking straight ahead.
Set a reminder to stand up and move at least once an hour, recommended Dr. Keeler. Walk a few laps around your kitchen or up and down the stairs. Practice light exercises or stretches to get your blood flowing. Then reset your work posture and refocus.
Work Smarter, Not Harder
Whenever possible, take a break from repetitious touchpad or keyboard work by using transcription services or dictation options. Use a headset or earbuds for phone calls, instead of holding a phone to your ear for long periods.
Take care of your overall health by exercising regularly, staying hydrated, eating well, and reducing stress. Core exercises strengthen your back muscles to support your spine more efficiently, and cardiovascular exercise improves blood flow. Stress is a major contributor to back, neck, and shoulder pain. Simple, mindfulness techniques and deep breathing can help you relax your muscles and release tension.
"Treating back pain depends on each person’s anatomy and their issues."
When to See a Back Doctor
If you've done everything right but are still experiencing back pain, make an appointment to see a doctor. That's especially important if your chronic back pain does not improve or worsens over several weeks. You should also see a back doctor if you have associated weakness, tingling, or numbness in your limbs; if the pain stops you from participating in normal activities; or if it causes you to lose sleep at night.
A back and spine expert can evaluate your concerns and give you personalized recommendations based on your spine’s “directional preference,” which is how your spine moves and feels best. You may also benefit from chiropractic care, physical therapy, or integrative medicine techniques like massage or acupuncture.
Physiatrists like Dr. Keeler specialize in physical medicine and rehabilitation and customize their recommendations to the concerns causing your pain. They work with you to “understand the underlying condition,” Dr. Keeler said. “There’s no universal approach to treating back pain because it really depends on each person’s anatomy and their issues.”