As most of Singapore gets used to the new normal of working from home, are you making your home work environment a conducive one for long hours of desk work? Sitting and staring at the computer for hours a day can cause pain in your neck and back. We’re answering some important questions about this in this article.
How does sitting for long hours affect one’s posture and spine health?
Sitting for prolonged periods with bad posture can cause neck and back pain.
Looking down at your cell phone, tablet, laptop or other mobile device too frequently and for too long can cause neck pain, termed “text neck”.
“Text neck” occurs when the head is held in a forward and downward position (i.e. looking down) for extended periods of time. This causes an excessive amount of tension to be created in the deep muscles of the neck and across the shoulders, which causes neck pain that can radiate to the shoulder and upper back. If prolonged, there can be inflammation of the ligaments, joints and irritation of the nerves. Sometimes it can even cause headaches (cervicogenic headaches).
Sitting for prolonged periods in a bad posture at the desk while working from home can also cause back pain. Bad sitting posture includes slouching too much, leaning too far back, or sitting upright without support. Sitting with bad posture puts a lot of stress on the discs, ligaments and the joints, resulting in back pain.
How can we reduce neck and back pain while working from home?
Ways to reduce neck and back pain while working from home include maintaining good posture and doing stretching and core strengthening exercises.
Help yourself maintain good posture
When sitting and doing work, get a chair that supports the upper and lower back, adhering to the natural curve of the spine with comfortable padding on the back and seat. A lumbar support attached to the chair can be useful. Ergonomically designed supportive chairs that maintain proper spine alignment can improve posture and reduce pain. A chair that has adjustable height and a head rest that supports the neck is also useful.
Stretch and do exercises regularly
After doing work for some time, it would be good to intermittently stand and walk around and do some stretching exercises for the neck and back. This helps to reduce the pressure in the discs and tension in the muscles and ligaments. It is important to do core strengthening exercises (e.g. doing planks, Pilates, swimming) which will then allow one to sit and work for longer periods.
When should we see a doctor about our back pain?
Not all neck and back pain that occurs while working from home is solely due to bad posture. There can be underlying spinal problems that can be aggravated due to prolonged sitting or use of mobile devices. Patients may already have degenerative disc disease, facet joint arthritis, slipped discs or nerve compression which are then made worse.
Symptoms that suggest more serious conditions include:
- Severe pain that persist for few weeks
- Pain or numbness that goes down the legs and upper limbs
- Pain at night or even when lying down
- Weakness in the limbs
- Affected bladder and bowel control
If these symptoms are present, it is better to consult a doctor and investigations such as X-rays or MRI scans are needed.
Most neck and back pain can be treated conservatively with medication and physiotherapy. Medication includes anti-inflammatory medicine and muscle relaxants. Physiotherapy involves stretching and core strengthening exercises.
However, if pain persists or investigations show serious causes of neck and back pain with nerve compression/injury, then surgery may be needed. Nowadays, there are minimally invasive spine procedures that can treat neck and back pain with smaller wounds, much shorter hospitalisation duration and faster recovery time.
Dr. Benedict Peng specialises in spine and neck surgery. He is experienced in motion preservation surgery and minimally invasive spine surgery and procedures.