Before the pandemic, we were all a little more mobile. Moving from work to work, walking from desks to meetings, or even just getting up to chat with a co-worker, the quiet movement was more naturally incorporated into the workday. Now, with many Americans still working remotely or on hybrid schedules, and with desks in the hallway from the bedrooms, it’s harder to get that much-needed mobility.
Decreased movement and increased sitting time, coupled with the stress that often comes from a workday, can affect our body. Specifically, prolonged insurance may be to blame for neck and back pain, which four out of five Americans had already reported experiencing pre-pandemic. While discomfort may not seem like a major red flag, over time it can damage our spinal structures and contribute to prolonged and even permanent pain in the neck, shoulders, and back.
Here are some tips and tools you can implement to stay comfortable during your workday and combat neck and back pain and associated long-term damage:
1) Check the ergonomics of the workstation.
If you are currently working from the couch or table in your home dining room, you will probably not get the proper support for a good postural position. And if you have a dedicated setup, you could continue to press your back and neck with a structure that doesn’t fit your body. To relieve stress and prevent injury, use this foot-to-foot reference when considering the location of your body in the desktop area and the general workstation settings:
2) Remember to move.
Sitting for long periods of time can cause muscle and joint stiffness in the neck and back and cause pain and discomfort. Research shows that frequent stretching not only avoids discomfort, but can also improve range of motion and postures, as well as provide stress relief. To promote healthy circulation throughout the workday and keep your body moving, try implementing these three tips:
- Move every 30. Separate sitting time by getting up and moving for one to five minutes every half hour and working periodically from the standing position with a standing desk or high desk.
- Spread it out. During these quick breaks, try a variety of stretches aimed at your neck, back, shoulders, legs, and knees. You can even do these stretches directly to your desktop.
- Use digital tools. StretchMinder for iPhone users, stretching and eye exercises for Android users, and the Google Chrome Stretch Reminder extension for Chrome users not only remind you to get up, but also share workouts and activity suggestions for healthy movement.
3) Commit to exercising regularly.
Research from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion shows that 80% of adults do not meet the recommended guidelines for aerobic and muscle strengthening activities. For healthy adults, this includes at least 150-300 minutes (5 hours) per week of moderate intensity or 75-150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) per week of vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity or a combination equivalent of the two. Regular exercise, especially one that involves strengthening the muscles of the neck, shoulders, and back, is critical to reducing and preventing neck and back pain. Incorporate a combination of these workouts into your routine with weights, resistance bands, and body weight. Also, through Harvard Pilgrim’s Living Well at Home program, anyone can move on to a 30-minute strength class between meetings or a one-hour after-hours Zumba class.
4) Explore treatment options.
Prior to the pandemic, some 22 million Americans visited chiropractors annually and 35% sought relief from back pain. While you should always connect with your primary care physician first regarding your case, health options such as chiropractic and acupuncture sessions can be an effective way to relieve and control back pain. and neck caused by sedentary work. If you are a member of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, your plan may also include coverage for chiropractic and acupuncture visits. For Massachusetts employers with more than 51 employees who are interested in providing their employees with access to these benefits, Harvard Pilgrim’s new offering, Health Forward, includes unlimited chiropractic and acupuncture visits.
For more general information, you can also learn more about how chiropractic and acupuncture treatments work to relieve pain and restore mobility.
5) Take care of your mental health.
Outside of physical causes, neck and back pain can also be the result of psychological stress. In a report released in October 2020, eight out of ten adults reported feeling significantly stressed due to the pandemic. While exercise can be a powerful stress reliever, devoting time to activities that make you happy (even include laughter) can help reduce stress. Activities such as yoga, mindfulness and meditation in particular are also beneficial. Join a free mindfulness session up to twice a week through Harvard Pilgrim’s Living Well at Home program. In addition, members have access to accredited mental health professionals, even through online therapy and text-based counseling tools such as Talkspace or Sanvello. And, with Harvard Pilgrim’s Health Forward, the first two visits to the behavioral health office, as well as all virtual behavioral health visits, have a $ 0 copay. Contact your health insurance broker for more information on this new offer.
A sedentary job at home doesn’t have to be a sore neck. By implementing these long-term tips and strategies, you can help your body stay mobile, flexible, and stress-free as you continue to work from home or back in the office.