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What to Do When Back Pain Sneaks Up on You


Let’s face it, we all sit too much. We sit to eat, to travel, to watch TV, to talk on the phone, to stream a movie and now, with COVID-19, we sit even more to work. This ushers in a host of ailments that can be traced to living a sedentary lifestyle. Obesity, heart disease and cancer are connected to falling physical activity levels, but as virtual work, school and socializing increase, doctors are now adding chronic back pain to that list.

Sitting Hurts Sometimes

There are a litany of reasons why your back can hurt. Maybe you strained it lifting something too heavy, injured it playing sports or it’s just a result of the natural aging process. But research is now showing how prolonged sitting (or, yes, slouching on the couch or reclining on your bed) for extended periods of time can place a tremendous amount of pressure on the back’s muscles, joints and discs. 

Poor posture such as sitting hunched over the laptop or leaning forward adds compression to your lower back, while looking down at a phone pulls on your neck and upper back. Even typing with your keyboard at the wrong height can wreak havoc on your shoulders. 

Alleviate the Ache

Three lifestyle habits will help, including:

  1. Stretch often. Stay limber by keeping your stomach and back muscles strong. Exercises such as planks and push-ups or e stretches such as Cat-Cow or Bridge Pose can bring flexibility and strength to your spine and muscles. 

  2. Take breaks. Try incorporating two or more hours of standing and moving into your work day, broken into segments, per research from Cornell University. Their 20-8-2 Rule suggests that for every half hour, you should spend 20 minutes of it sitting, 8 minutes standing and 2 minutes moving. 

  3. Maintain a proper sitting posture. Posture is particularly important when working at a computer or desk, as the angle and height of the screen and keyboard can cause as much discomfort as how you are sitting in your chair. Ideally, when sitting with your back flush to the chair’s back, you should have 3 to 4 inches between your knees and chair edge. The chair should be at a height that enables your arms to rest at a 90-degree angle for typing. Adjust the screen high enough to keep your gaze straight and avoid having to tilt your head up or down. If needed, make adjustments using cushions or a rolled-up towel to provide added support. 

When to See A Doctor

If making these accommodations doesn’t help ease your backache, or if you find the pain starting to radiate down one or both legs, you may be dealing with a larger issue such as a pinched nerve, disc herniation or issues related to arthritis. These problems can be aggravated by prolonged sitting and might require an orthopedic surgeon or neurosurgeon to provide diagnostic testing that can identify and address the root cause of your pain.

Should you notice back pain, the problem may be easily solved by simply getting up out of your chair and going for a walk — a simple solution with big results.


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