The way we live our lives has altered considerably since the Coronavirus pandemic began in Spring 2019, and for many, this has caused far-reaching effects to all aspects of life. Not least of these effects is the sharp increase in back problems experienced by people around the UK as a result of the restrictions that have altered our lifestyles over the past year and a half. Caroline Freedman, a personal trainer and author who is uniquely experienced in caring for those with back problems, has something to say on the matter.
Whilst a 2020 study showed that over half of the people surveyed had developed pain in their neck, back and shoulders as a result of working from home during the Coronavirus pandemic (https://www.employment-studies.co.uk/resource/ies-working-home-wellbeing-survey), Caroline has also seen this reflected in her private clients who she has been training online via Zoom and FaceTime.
The huge increase in employees working from home as a result of the pandemic has seen many being forced to hunch over laptops and computer screens without the proper seating and desk spaces they might have been able to benefit from in the office. The long period of gym closures during several lockdowns has also affected many people’s exercise routines, leading many to lose strength and tone in the all-so important muscle groups that help support our spinal health. Although we are now celebrating the many benefits of post-‘Freedom Day’ life, working from home now remains a safe and popular option for many hoping to avoid a crowded commute. Equally, many have decided that they do not feel safe returning to gyms and indoor fitness classes, and it is therefore important for us all to take a look at the different ways we can look after our backs in the aftermath of several lockdowns.
Experienced in working with scoliosis patients and others suffering from chronic back pain, Caroline has some thoughtful advice for how we can look after our backs in the post-lockdown world:
‘When carrying out household chores, avoid using one side of your body repeatedly, as this can result in an imbalance of the muscle build up, especially if you do this every day. Switch hands regularly when cleaning or mopping.
When it comes to exercise, make sure to schedule that walk into your daily routine, and don’t miss it out! I always make sure I train every day, including floor exercises which you can do without any gym equipment. Lots of gym equipment can be replaced with household items. Replace bands with tights or leggings, and for weights, find some tins, bottles of water, books or bags filled with packets of rice or pasta! It is important to move around and exercise regularly, and small, regular bouts of exercise can be much more effective than a couple of long workouts per week.
Sitting in one position for too long (for example when working at a computer screen) can cause stiffness and pain in the joints and can result in chronic postural issues. To avoid this, set yourself an alarm to remind you to get up and move about at regular intervals throughout the working day.
Many people have been unable to attend their regular physiotherapist or massage appointments due to lockdown, and many therapists are now booked up for months in advance as a result! While you are waiting for an appointment, try some of the stretches below. You can also try ordering a spiky massage ball to roll up and down against a wall. For tired muscles, use magnesium salts in a hot bath.
STANDING NECK PUSH AGAINST WALL
(a John Rutherford physiotherapist exercise backpainspecialistslondon.co.uk) This movement could come under exercises OR stretching depending on how slowly it is done. I recommend super slow. It works the neck muscles and helps with strengthening the neck and improving posture.
• Stand with your back to the wall and your knees slightly bent.
• Gently push your head back using your neck muscles to try to touch the wall at eye level.
• Make the push a very small movement towards the wall making sure your chin is tucked slightly in, hold for a few seconds, then relax.
• Repeat the pushes six times and build to 10 repetitions x 3 sets.
I find this stretch a great relief.
• Find a high bar or top of a door you can just reach.
• Hold with both hands. Bend your knees and try to sit, so you are
dropping your spine downwards. Do not arch your back, but suck your abs in.
SEATED OBLIQUE STRETCH
(a John Rutherford exercise) This movement offers excellent release. • Sit on a chair, bench or Swiss ball (see the Scoliosis Handbook for guidance) with your knees at a 90° angle.
• Cross your arms above your head with your hands on opposite shoulders.
• Really try to sit up as tall as you can.
• Move gently from one side to the other, lifting your hips off the chair alternately.
This is my all-time favourite stretch. It is my go-to stretch for any client who walks into my studio complaining that they have ‘done something’ to their back, or when I just want a lovely waking-up stretch. If you sit at a desk for work, the banister stretch is great for pulling out a compressed spine, opening up your vertebrae.
• Find a banister or fixed pole.
• Feet one and a half hip width apart
• Grip with your hands and squat down and outwards.
• Keep your back flat, head in line with your body, core sucked in.
•Do not arch your back.
• Imagine someone is pulling your hips towards the back of the room. Sit further down to get a deeper spinal stretch.
• Hold for a few seconds up to 60, and repeat.’
(Always check with your GP or physiotherapist before starting any new regimen of exercise)