Minding Your Spine During Stressful Times

Reminders to help keep back pain at bay while social distancing at home.

Right now, if you’re like most of the American population some, likely-significant, part of your life that lives outside of your living space has been told to go home. The stay-at-home and social distancing requests from our health officials and federal government are not without merit. They are intended to save lives. And many Americans are doing their part. Still, it can come at a different health price. As a spine surgeon, I’d like to take a moment to remind everyone that your spine health still matters, even during these times. The good news is, there is plenty you can do to keep your spine in mind while you also help flatten the COVID-19 curve.
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Have recent stay-at-home orders in your local community got you working from home now? If yes, then the chances are high that you’re not seated at a desk, or even in an office chair. If you’re on the couch, the floor, or your bed for several hours a day, it’s essential to know that none of these options is an ideal one for your spine. If you can find a chair that allows you to plant both feet on the floor and a table that will enable you to place your computer in such a way that doesn’t strain your neck, this is a more favorable position for your spine. Even if sitting this way to work doesn’t seem as comfortable as the couch or a bed, I promise it’s better for your back. Even still, whether you’re in your (makeshift) home office or an office outside your home, getting up and moving around often is always important. Aim for getting up every half hour or so and walking around or stretching.

Speaking of stretching, exercise remains essential – for your overall health and the health of your spine. Being asked to stay home doesn’t mean you have to keep still. And you shouldn’t, especially if you want to keep your back from crowing about it. Your spinal muscles are nourished by movement. If you can maintain an appropriate social distance from other people of at least six feet, head outside for a brisk walk. If that doesn’t work, there are plenty of online cardio workouts you can find that don’t require more square feet than what a bedroom would provide. And be sure to stretch out – optimally at the beginning and end of each day. Simply reaching for the sky from a standing position on the tips of your toes, or lying flat in the ground and lengthening your spine with these same movements is beneficial for your back.

Of course, all of this time at home also has many of us on our device screens more than we already were – which was a lot, to be honest. Switch up your routine so that you’re not staring into a display for so many waking hours each day. Do yoga, build a pillow fort with your kids, tackle a home project – the opportunity to get up and move is there, even if you must get a little creative (read: motivated) to find it.

If you do plan to take on a project or two with the more time you’re spending at home, be sure to take safety precautions that protect you from an injury or fall. If the project involves a step ladder, be sure it is placed on solid, flat ground. And where shoes with treads that grip before you stand on it. Stay safe while lifting by doing so from the legs and knees versus bending and lifting from your back. Don’t overdo it either. If your home project to-do list is long – space it out. Don’t try to tackle it in a few days. Your back may scream at you if you try.

Though these are interesting times we are in as a nation, there is still plenty we can do to make sure we don’t add back pain or injury to our list of worries. We will get through this together – and hopefully with some new, healthy routines that can usher us into a lifetime of wellness.

Neel Anand, MD

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