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If you’ve developed backache since working from home, you’re not alone. Helen Foster asks the experts why we’re suffering – and how to reduce our risk
Every year, around 40% of people experience at least one day of back pain – and the issue has only become worse since we started working from home. In fact, one survey found 36% of people in the UK experienced an increase in back pain during the pandemic.
The main problem, say experts, is that we just don’t move around as much when we’re working from home; shifting position regularly should be the number one thing you do to reduce your risk of problems. But how should you treat pain if it does happen?
‘Pain is a warning system, and by disguising it you could end up moving in a way that makes things worse,’ says chiropractor Craig McLean from Chiro. London.
If the pain is new or came on suddenly after you did something like lifting a box, try applying a packet of frozen peas or an ice pack wrapped in a towel. ‘This will help lower the inflammation that is leading to the pain,’ says Craig.
If the pain is older or is clearly coming from a tight muscle, ‘try using something hot, like holding a hot water bottle (properly covered) or heated wheat bag over the pain,’ says Craig. ‘Heat releases tense muscles.’
‘The days when back pain was treated with bedrest are well and truly over. It just causes everything to seize up further,’ says Laura Stocks, regional physiotherapy lead at Nuffield Health. ‘Instead, you should aim to keep moving within your pain-free limits. Don’t force anything, but try walking or gentle exercises. Even just walking up and down the road outside your house will help.’
‘Much of the healing from pain happens at night, so it’s important to get a good night’s sleep, but some positions can aggravate pain,’ says Laura. ‘If you normally sleep on your back, you might find it helps to put a pillow under your knees, while side sleepers can try sleeping with a pillow between their knees.’
Numerous studies have confirmed that acupuncture can help backpain, with one US trial finding that it helped reduce symptoms twice as effectively as basic treatments like painkillers. The NICE guidelines also recommend acupuncture as a backpain treatment, so your GP might even be able to prescribe it. Find a registered practitioner via the British Acupuncture Council.