How do you avoid back pain working from home?

This is a big topic.  But you and I have something in common.  Like you, I’m currently working from home.  So I’m well placed to answer it.  Along with 30 years experience as a practising osteopath in Edinburgh.  And having written 2 books on lower back pain, I think I’m pretty well qualified.  In this article I’m going to cover

  • What the biggest contributing factors are
  • The two reasons your pain is most likely to recur
  • What to do about it

What causes lower back pain working from home?

Your posture

It doesn’t matter what the researchers say.  They can’t agree on much anyway.  Posture matters.  Your head is approximately 4.5kg.  How you balance it on your neck and the rest of your spine has an impact.  Your skeleton is designed to function in particular ways.  If you hold it in positions that are awkward, your muscles have to work harder.  They get fatigued.  Then they ache.  If you keep doing this it gets worse.  And so your pain increases.  Pain is your alarm system remember.

Pay attention to your posture.  Otherwise it will bite you in the long-run.

Lack of movement

You might think that when you’re sitting still you’re not doing anything.  But you are.  Or more specifically your muscles are.  They are helping to hold you up.  And they get fatigued.  If you hold a loaded shopping bag for 1 minute you may be OK. But what if you hold it for 10 or 30 minutes?

Sitting or standing still is the same.  Staying still exerts a constant and sustained load on your muscles and joints.  It also results in a lack of “fluid exchange”.  Poor blood flow.  Lack of lymphatic drainage.  So the waste products of metabolism – lactic acid, carbon dioxide – build up.  Guess what they do to your nerve endings?  Sensitise them.  And if you have any inflammation (ooh, that arthritic knee…) that builds up when you’re still too.


Are you under different pressures than usual?  New pressures? Change of environment?  Change of social connections? A threat to your income? Those are called “stressors”.  And they will be raising your state of alarm.  Guess what that does to your perception of pain?

Lack of sleep

Lack of sleep increases the production of your stress hormones, including adrenalin.  You guessed it – also sensitises your nervous system.  Got the picture?

The only 2 reasons your back pain keeps coming back

You have a bad plan

This topic is covered in the first episode of my podcast about lower back pain.  Your body has a tremendous capacity to heal itself. What happens when you cut your skin?  When you break a bone? So, why wouldn’t your lower back heal itself?  Admittedly, discs have no direct blood supply.  So they take longer than bones.  But even they can heal. It’s estimated that two thirds of lumbar disc herniations heal themselves.  Why isn’t your back getting better?  I think it’s probably because you have a bad plan.  Or…

You don’t stick to a good plan

Of course, you might have had a perfectly good plan.  But you didn’t follow it.  This won’t come as a surprise to any student of human behaviour.  As soon as you start to feel better you go back to your old habits, don’t you?

Tips on how to avoid back pain working from home

OK, I’ve given you quite a few clues above.

Move more often

Movement is essential to keep blood and lymphatic fluid moving.  It’s also essential to having positive mood.  Because being in a good mood will help to diminish your pain. Moving also helps to stop you becoming de-conditioned (which increases the likelihood of another episode).

My Golden Rule is “Use it But Don’t Abuse it” (UIBDAI).  So long as it doesn’t hurt, movement is always a good thing.  Have you got it?  Move more often in ways that don’t hurt.  That is my number one tip to avoid back pain working from home.

Sit and stand in positions that don’t hurt (and don’t feel you have to stay still when you do!)

Following on from the UIBDAI rule, if it hurts to sit on the sofa, then don’t do it.  If it hurts more when you get up from the sofa, don’t do it.  If it hurts to sit for 20 minutes, but it’s OK for 15 minutes then stick to 15.  Find your positions of comfort.  Avoid the positions that hurt.  Sometimes your positions of comfort aren’t what would normally be considered “good posture”.  Just go with it for now.

But also remember the maxim “your best posture is your next posture”.  Staying in any one position for long is tiring.  So change position frequently.  At least every 30 minutes, change position.

Get more exercise

I’ve said a fair bit about the importance of movement.  But brisk movement – aka “exercise” – has additional benefits.  Walking is usually excellent for lower backs (but stick to the UIBDAI rule).  More vigorous walking produces endorphins and enkephalins which reduce pain.  They are more powerful than any prescription medication. Brisk walking, cycling, walking, swimming, running.  Try them and so long as they don’t hurt, carry on.

Minimise stress

Reduce sources of stress.  And at the very least, accept that stress is a factor for all but the most positive, upbeat of people.  And if you have a history of anxiety or depression, that will have a negative bearing.  Don’t worry about it.  Do something about it.  Especially if you want to avoid back pain working from home.

Get a good night’s sleep

If you are sleep-deprived, you will experience more pain.  Period. Of course, your pain may affect the amount and/or quality of your sleep.  So it can be a vicious cycle.  Pain relief is most relevant at night.  Here’s a guide to how to sleep well with lower back pain.

Summary points on how to avoid back pain working from home

  • Move more often
  • Stand, sit and lie in positions that are least uncomfortable
  • Change posture frequently
  • Get more exercise
  • Minimise stress
  • Get better sleep

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