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Backpain, posture and remote working - some tips to help (and how the ironing board can come in handy)

Dr Lawrence Woods offers some help to those working remotely and suffering back pain.

Dr Lawrence Woods

 The Covid-19 changes have come bounding into our lives, upending them. Here at TheJournal.ie, we are running a weekly Voices column, ‘Wellness Wednesday’, in which we feature advice and information from mental health professionals, yoga teachers, mindfulness practitioners and more. We hope this weekly section will help you, our readers, navigate this unprecedented shift in how we live.

This week, we hear from Dr Lawrence Woods, a chiropractor, who has specialised in posture for 30 years. He has some advice for anyone working from home:

NOW THAT MOST of us are unexpectedly working from home, we may find ourselves hunched over a laptop at our make-shift kitchen table workstation or worse the couch. While most offices are designed for proper ergonomics, now you are on your own and struggling to remember what height and angles suit you best for your chair and computer.

Often, it doesn’t take long for those old nagging back and neck pains to re-emerge. 

The good news is that there has never been a better time for getting the basics right in how we sit, stand, and sleep. If you are missing any of these elements, you’re just not going to be as healthy as you could be. We have an incredible opportunity right now to develop simple habits that will have a lasting impact on our overall health.

shutterstock_370347296 Source: Shutterstock/G-Stock Studio

How to get your sitting right

Let’s start with sitting. We all know that lengthy sitting is a health hazard – and the average person sits 10 hours a day. Prolonged sitting promotes dozens of chronic diseases including depression, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. That’s true even if you exercise as well as sitting.

Once you recognise the health risks posed by excessive sitting, the next step becomes how to change this unhealthy behaviour. Here’s the trick: Imagine your head as a bowling ball. Your head must be properly aligned to avoid undue stress on your neck and spine.

Avoid positioning your head forward; hold it upright instead to help line up your ears, shoulders, and hips. Sit with your feet flat on the floor with your hips above your knees. Lastly, avoid soft chairs and couches.

How to get your standing right

If you’re used to sitting for many hours a day, you shouldn’t expect to switch entirely to a standing position overnight. Take baby steps here. Start with 30 minutes the first day and add another 15-30 minutes each day until standing occupies most of your day. 

If using a computer at home, try a standing desk. Alternatively, an ironing board, box, or an overturned wastebasket will do. The key here is that you cannot simply replace sitting with standing; it is possible to develop sedentary patterns standing just as with prolonged sitting.

Use standing as a way to promote more movement throughout the day. Walk around, shift positions, dance, whatever gets you moving more and prevents staying in one position all day.

shutterstock_626775071 Source: Shutterstock/Africa Studio

How to get your sleep

It can be difficult to absolutely control getting eight hours of sleep. A third of your life is supposed to be spent sleeping, and if you don’t get this right, the rest of your day is off too. 

Create a sleep sanctuary. This means removing items related to entertainment, electronic devices, and work and making your bedroom into a single-purpose space for sleeping only. Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet. These three factors can have a significant impact on your sleep. 

Get a decent mattress and pillow. It’s the best investment in your health you will ever make. A rule of thumb is to sleep as if you are standing up straight with your knees slightly bent.

If you are a side sleeper, your mattress should be somewhat softer for shoulder and hip absorption and use a pillow between your knees to keep your hips balanced. Back sleepers should have a slightly harder mattress and a pillow should be placed under the knees to keep the back muscles relaxed. 

How to move all-day

Movement is the key. Mounting research confirms that to maintain optimal health, your body needs to spend the bulk of its time doing what it was designed to do: move. Ideally, you should move every 20 minutes, and a combination of sit-stand-move should be incorporated throughout your day.

Try timers or drink lots of water (which makes you get up often to pee) or, optimally, a two-minute walk every 20 minutes is a good start. 

With every crisis comes a blessing, and there are no challenges without an opportunity. If we master the basics of sitting, standing, and sleeping, we will become more resilient and be much healthier in the post-Covid-19 world.

Dr Lawrence Woods studied and was licensed in physiotherapy and chiropractic. His work focuses on ergonomics, biomechanics, spinal therapies and functional design. He is the author of ‘Rethinking Posture In The Modern World’. 

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Dr Lawrence Woods

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