By Karen Dearden, Clinical Specialist and Clinic Director
In our last blog, I explained why lockdown and working from home is having a dangerous impact on our spines. If you’ve not read it yet, take a look here before you read on.
1. Anterior pelvic tilt
One of the major issues we’ve seen from working from home is due to what you’re probably doing right now: sitting. Because we’re not commuting, we’re sitting more and walking less. This can lead to weakness in the gluteal muscles (buttocks) and tightness in the hip flexors (muscles at the front of the hip), which can impact hip function and overall balance.
To see if this is an issue for you, stand side on from a mirror and see if your bum and stomach are sticking out more than normal (and I’m not talking about the extra lockdown chocolate!).
If it is, what’s likely happened is that your hip has tilted forwards, because your glutes are too weak, and your hip flexors are too tight. While this might not cause you any major issues in the short term, it can lead to a number of problems in the long run, including chronic lower back pain.
This is another very common one. If you’ve spent a while sat at a computer, the chances are that you’ll have been hunching forward to type and use the keyboard (especially if you’ve not set your desk up properly)! As a result, the muscles in your back that pull your shoulderblades backwards and down have become weak, and the muscles in your chest that work in the opposite direction have become tight.
You might not even need a test for this one: if you’ve ever been told to stand up straight or put your shoulders back, you’ll likely have an issue here. However, there are a few things you can do to double check.
First of all, just stand up and see where your hand are when you let them hang by your side. Are they by the side of your legs or in front of them? If they’re in front, your shoulders will have rolled in.
Another thing you can do is lift both of your arms out to the side. How high can you get them? If they can’t meet above your head or you’re getting a pinching feeling in your shoulder, it’s likely that your shoulder is out of alignment, which has limited its range of motion.
3. Stiff back
We’re not moving as much as we did before lockdown, and when we do move, it’s usually around the house, and more often than not, people don’t stand up straight for that. If you’re keeping your mid back in the ‘chair position’ for such long periods of time, it’s going to stiffen up and lose mobility, which means you’re going to have to get that movement from somewhere else, like your lower back, your pelvis, or your neck. This can have a range of impacts on our daily life, and it can be a real pain in the neck (quite literally) in the long term, as your body will adapt to the stiffness and create new, potentially dangerous movement patterns.
There are a few good tests for this one, because the symptoms are so obvious. The first one applies just to drivers: have you noticed that reversing the car is getting more difficult because you’re struggling to turn around to look?
For all you non-drivers, take a seat and cross your arms across the front of your chest like a mummy. Keep your bum firmly on the seat, and rotate as far as you can to the right. Then move back to the middle and go right the way to the left. Did you notice that one side was tighter than the other? Did you feel any stiffness or pain at the base of your spine or in your mid back when you turned?
Finally, look over your left shoulder. Now, look over your right shoulder.
Did you feel any pain or notice any difference?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of those questions, it’s likely that you’ve lost some mobility in your mid back.
4. Hip fixing
There can be a number of things that contribute to this one. Incorrect sitting positions (e.g. sitting on one leg on a chair) or too much flexing and rotating in the upper back (e.g. hunching over a laptop or a jigsaw) can lead you to a twist further down your spine where it meets your pelvis. This can cause hypermobility on one side of the pelvis, while the other side fixes in place to compensate and stabilise your body. In simple terms, this twist throws your lower body out of alignment, and it can put pressure on your back, hips, and knees
This test is all about balance.
Stand on one leg and find your centre of balance. Feel where your balance is. Is it in your heel, the side of your foot, or the front of your foot? Can you put your weight equally through your whole foot and still balance? Now do the same for your other leg; do you notice any differences?
If you’re struggling to put the weight evenly through your foot on one side, it’s likely that you’re fixing your weight onto your other leg.
Now, you might be
wondering why I’ve just listed problems here without giving any solutions.
Well, there’s a good reason for that. While some quick exercises and stretches
to address these symptoms may help, you wouldn’t necessarily be solving the
problem. To ensure you get fit and stay fit, you need to adopt a bespoke,
holistic approach that goes beyond the visible symptoms to address the cause of the injury.
To do this, a detailed analysis of your injury and what brought it on may help to address its true cause. A bespoke treatment plan can then be tailored to your needs, not only dealing with the symptoms and imbalances, but that also fixes the initial cause of the issue. This could include changes to the way you set up your desk, the chair that you sit in, or your activity levels, or all of the above!
If you’d like to speak with one of our chartered physiotherapists or other registered therapists about this, book an appointment here (we are still offering Zoom appointments for anyone who can’t come to our clinics due to self-isolation, shielding, or any other reason).
As mentioned in our previous blog, we also offer occupational health services to employers. Regardless of whether your employees are working in the office or at home, it’s vital that they’re doing so in the safest way. The impact of getting this right goes beyond simply improving the wellbeing and health of your employees; it will actually maximise your team’s productivity and minimise sick days due to back pain. Learn more about how we can help you achieve this here.