Technology is enabling a new paradigm of work that is, quite frankly, amazing. Thanks to the vast array of telecommunication devices and an expansive range of software tools, many of us can now snub the dreaded commute and work from home — or from anywhere in the world.
A mind-boggling 70% of people now work remotely at least once a week. Millennials and Gen Z are also guiding more businesses towards embracing flexible working policies, including telecommuting. In other words, there’s every reason to believe that remote working is more than a trend — it’s a tectonic shift.
For the most part, that’s all a very good thing. Remote working can lead to better work-life balance, decrease company costs, and generally benefit the global economy. However, there are also some downsides. For instance, remote workers are far more likely to report “loneliness” as a chronic condition that affects both their mental and physical wellbeing.
Another big downside? Where your backside ends up
Sitting down for prolonged periods of time is one of the worst things you can do for your spine. While sitting isn’t inherently terrible, too much of it is. Add in the fact that most of us neglect our posture completely while sitting, and you have a perfect recipe for low back problems.
According to the National Institute of Health, back pain already affects eight out of ten people. If you want to guarantee your placement among the eight, it’s easy — just don’t move from your office chair.
Strategies for risk reduction
We’re not giving up remote work, but that doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice our spinal health. The first order of business is to gain a basic understanding of why back pain occurs. Typically, it starts with a temporary injury (i.e. a strain or muscle knot) that goes untreated. This is frequently followed by a continuation of unhealthy movement patterns, then a long-term, active “guarding of the muscles” that only makes things worse. (After all, your spine is meant to support you, not vice versa.)
If you’re stuck in that loop, what can you do about it? First, accept that your habits are probably responsible for your back pain. Second, consider a standing desk. You can also set an alarm for every 15-30 minutes, and take a short break for some physical activity. Even a quick walk and some simple stretching exercises will make a difference when it comes to your spinal health.
You also want to make sure you’re tapping into the natural pain relief mechanisms your body has to offer. Walk, move, practice deep breathing, laugh often, and enjoy your relationships. These may seem like silly or trivial prescriptions for back pain, but in combination, your body’s natural abilities and responses often prove more effective than medication.
Most important, be mindful. Whether you’re sitting or standing, repetitive movements that are so often the foundation of remote work (e.g., watching screens and typing) are likely to undermine your body’s most crucial bit of anatomy. The more you counteract that with movement and good, healthy posture, the less likely you are to end up injured — even remotely.