Don’t let bad habits from your day job cause you pain.
Ah, the rise of home working. There’s the chance to sleep in a little longer, no need for the stressful commute and there are way less distractions from noisy colleagues. What’s not so great though? Waking up with a painful back after hunching over a laptop for hours at the kitchen table.
Even if your work has remained office-based, most of us spend our day sat at a desk, absorbed in urgent emails, and non-stop video calls. Add to that the attention we give to our smartphones, and it’s easy to see how many of us develop poor posture habits.
It’s not just an aesthetic worry, as research is increasingly proving that sitting down for long stretches of time is wrecking our health. Aside from the tell-tale lower back pain that an estimated 619 million people live with globally, studies have linked it to issues like deep vain thrombosis, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and even early death.
In light of these findings, some countries have made recommendations that children limit screen time to reduce the time spent being sedentary. But what can adults do to combat the effects of modern working? We spoke to some experts to get the 411.
Let’s start by acknowledging that there are tonnes of articles online that talk about steps you can take to ‘fix’ bad posture. “This is a bit of a myth,” says Matt Mason, Physiotherapist at Marylebone Health Group. “We typically think about ‘bad’ posture as being hunched over our keyboard, but the truth is that any posture you hold for a certain amount of time is technically bad.”
Regardless of whether you sit up straight and tall, or you loom over your laptop, Ciaran Keen, a specialist osteopath at Marylebone Health, says that at a certain point your body isn’t going to like it. This is because humans aren’t designed to stay in one position for long periods; it can overload specific muscles or joints, and put pressure on the spinal discs.
In short, your midday slouching isn’t the problem - it's the lack of movement in the posture. “In this way, sitting up pin-straight all day, ironically, isn’t any better,” says Keen. “You can get into a position that technically looks more upright, but it might not feel comfortable, as everyone has natural anatomical variations in their bone structure.”
His big recommendation for keeping your back happy? "Regularly moving to a different posture or having a postural correction, where you sit up tall for a short amount of time, and then come back to the comfortable position," says Keen. "In physiotherapy, we have a saying: 'Your next posture is your best posture,' meaning that the more you move throughout the day, the better you'll feel. There simply isn't one perfect posture."
It’s all well and good aiming for more movement, but it’s all too easy to lose track of time at work. Try using the Pomodoro Technique, a time management method developed in the late 1980s. It utilises a simple kitchen timer to break work into short intervals, typically 25 minutes in length, followed by a five minute break.
The timer was created to minimise procrastination and help develop periods of deep focus, but it can have benefits for your back too. “Setting a timer can be helpful to remind you to move postures throughout the day,” says Keen. Each time the timer buzzes, stand up, grab a glass of water and then resume your deadlines in a fresh position.
Reformer Pilates is everywhere right now. If it's not our fave celebrities doing it (Harry Styles and Adele are avid fans), it's all over TikTok. This trendy type of exercise class delivers a killer workout by transferring the techniques taught in the original mat-based Pilates workout on to a machine that's loaded with springs and pulleys.
“While research says that there’s no specific one type of perfect exercise that improves back health, you’ll want to choose a movement that has some type of external resistance, specifically involving strengthening the trunk, core, and spinal muscles,” says Mason.
Putting your core through its paces during a reformer Pilates class isn't just about honing a six-pack; it can also keep your back in check too. Although Pilates exercises don't look as explosive as plyometrics or cardio classes, the range of movements engages not only the larger muscle groups but also the intrinsic muscle groups, helping to build a full-body strength picture. As you’re using springs, straps, and the padded carriage as resistance, it makes for the perfect low-impact fitness option if your back is already feeling stiff or sore.
Standing desks are becoming increasingly popular as people seek ways to avoid prolonged sitting. “Variety is key, so you'll want to create a desk setup that includes both sitting and standing periods, not just one or the other,” says Keen.
A standing desk, also known as a stand-up desk, is essentially a desk that enables you to work comfortably while standing. Although research in this area is still in its early stages, it does suggest that using a standing desk can offer benefits such as reducing back pain and the risk of heart disease.
Additionally, some ergonomic office chairs, like the HÅG Capisco 8106, allow you to adjust your body between low and high working positions, even up to a standing position, enabling you to stay active while tackling your workload.
Open the TikTok app, and you're likely to encounter numerous fitness influencers participating in the latest #FitTok challenge: the dead hang. As the name suggests, this viral exercise simply involves hanging from a pull-up bar.
Dead hangs are typically the first step toward building the strength needed to perform a full pull-up, but they offer bonusl benefits for your back. This movement provides a much-needed break from sitting positions, allowing your body weight to gently stretch and decompress the spine as you hang.
The satisfying pull of gravity helps create space between the vertebrae while strengthening the muscles in the upper back, shoulders, and core. As Keen notes, “We want to aim to strengthen those antagonist muscles that assist in maintaining an upright and supported seated position.”
Consider wrapping up your next sweat session with a 30-second dead hang to reap the benefits. Beginners may want to start with shorter durations and gradually increase as they become more comfortable.
It goes without saying that if you’re suffering with back pain, it’s advisable to speak to a qualified PT before attempting any exercise that could add stress to the lower back. They can provide guidance on whether specific exercises are suitable for your needs and make any adjustments where they’re needed.
Words: Liz Connor
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