Most days, during lockdown, I do a tour of my home that goes something like this.
I wake up at 7am and take advantage of the fact I don’t need to be anywhere and work in bed for a couple of hours on my laptop.
After breakfast, I take up residence at the kitchen table, where I perch for a while on the edge of one of my stiff-backed kitchen chairs.
Once the now customary twinges set in and start shooting up my back after about an hour, I migrate to the living room to sink into the sofa, until my rib cage feels so collapsed from hunching over my computer that I return to the kitchen.
And so continues my daily journey in pursuit of somewhere – anywhere – I can feel comfortable enough to do my work.
It seems I’m not alone.
According to a new survey of 500 workers by the Institute for Employment Studies, there has been a “significant increase in musculoskeletal complaints” since we’ve been confined at home for work.
Indeed, this month, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy advised its members to prepare for no less than “a tsunami” of rehabilitation needs when lockdown is lifted from people whose aches and pains have worsened, in part due to lack of exercise and poor habits during quarantine.
After all it’s not just trying to do our office jobs hunched over our screens. It’s also the hours we’re spending glued to the same screens for Zoom chats, Covid news updates, social networking and Netflix binge-watching.
Expect the worse... if you don’t take care
Unless we start thinking about our posture now, far from being able to skip into summer when lockdown ends, we’ll only be storing up problems, according to Tim Allardyce, a leading physiotherapist.
Allardyce, clinical director of Surrey Physio, tells me: “Every morning, when you’re sitting using your laptop in bed like that, you’re putting your body at a 45-degree angle while your neck is bending forward.
“Looking down at screens like this is putting a significant amount of strain through your neck. Your head weighs about 8 per cent of your body weight. So leaning forward is putting a lot of pressure on your neck muscles, which are not big and strong, like the hamstrings or glutes. They are small muscles whose job it is to rotate and side-bend the neck.
“They are not there to support your head. That’s the job of your spine when the head is sitting above the vertebral column, without gravity pulling it forward.”
Over time, Allardyce warns the developing stiffness in my lower neck, which is now starting to cascade down my back, could eventually lead to disc problems. “When you flex your neck forward for long enough over months or years, it can lead to disc herniation.”
This is when discs – or soft cushion of tissue between the bones of the spine – start pushing out and causing pain when they press on the nerves.
Indeed, Allardyce tells me that my constant restlessness as I work is my body’s way of telling me it doesn’t like the way I am using it.
Allardyce says: “Your body’s natural instinct is to get up, move around and change position. When you feel uncomfortable, it’s a sign your body is yelling at you that it wants you to be more mobile.
“You should be getting up every 30 minutes for a one- to two-minute walk, even if it’s just a stroll to the kitchen. Beyond that, we should all be doing regular exercise in our homes to keep our muscle strength and keep our bodies moving.”
Poor posture means we are less equipped to cope with the emotional stresses of the crisis, says Noel Kingsley, posture expert and Alexander Technique teacher.
Kingsley, author of Perfect Poise, Perfect Life, says: “Slumping down into a soft chair, or at a table with a laptop, makes us compress our insides, so we can’t breathe efficiently.
“This squashing downwards will affect our digestion, while this lack of oxygen may affect our mood. We may feel more tired, irritable and even depressed.”
And it’s not just me who needs to sit up straight in self-isolation. So do my children.
Kids too need to sit straight
Like millions of other young people, my daughters Lily, 18, and Clio, 15, are also spending long stretches of time glued to their screen for online lessons.
Lorna Taylor, physiotherapist at Jolly Back in Derby, says: “There’s likely a whole host of problems being set up with the online learning children have to do at the moment, because they are sitting more and they don’t have proper workstations set up.
“If a child is staying in the same position for long periods, over time the muscles in a child’s neck and back will become overworked, overstretched, overtired and weakened as their heads poke forward. The spine should look S-shaped from the side, with a nice lumbar curve and the head balancing on the top of the spine. Increasingly, children’s spines are looking more C-shaped.”
And take note, ladies. We women are already more vulnerable to back problems from hunching, even before lockdown-working. One study from the University of Nevada found that women are much more likely to feel pain after tech use, possibly because they tend to have less overall neck and upper body strength.
So with no confirmed end in sight, what am I to do to make sure I don’t eventually emerge from lockdown looking like Quasimodo?
The key adjustment I need to make is to find a new way to look at screens so I don’t poke my head out and down, says Kingsley. He also advises me to lie on the floor every day for 10 minutes with my head on a small pile of books and my knees bent, to help straighten out my spine.
If I sit and stand more consciously, my spine will release, he says. My internal organs will be less squashed and my lungs will expand more easily. More oxygen will get to my skin, giving me a better complexion that – oh joy -could wipe as much as 10 years off my looks into the bargain.
With the stress and worry this crisis has added to many of our faces, who wouldn’t sit up and take notice of that?
Exercises to help your body
To keep aches and pains under control during lockdown, it’s essential to work on your core, says Tim Allardyce, who has designed a range of exercise rehab classes on his new website, rehabme.com.
Try these daily exercises in order to keep back pain at bay:
The kneeling plank
To strengthen your core, rest on your forearms and your knees. Hold this position and do not let your back arch too much. Hold the position for one minute, and repeat three times a day.
Lie on your front, and lift your opposite arm and leg, keeping them straight. Hold this position, and then relax. This exercise helps to arch your lower back while strengthening the lower back and buttock muscles. Hold the position for 30 seconds each side, and repeat three times.
Kneel on your hands and knees. Gently pull in your deep abdominal muscles by drawing your belly button in towards your spine. Next lift one arm in front of you, and your opposite leg behind you. This exercise strengthens the deep core muscles. Hold the position for 30 seconds each side, and repeat three times.
For the over-70s
Core exercises are often trickier for older people, says Allardyce. “The over-70s generally find it harder to get on and off the floor, which is the most common place where we do core training. So chair exercises are often preferable where your mobility is limited.”
He suggests these alternatives:
Sit upright on a chair and put your hands on each side of the chair. Gently lean forwards and use as much leg strength as you can to push yourself up to standing. Once upright, stand up straight. Then slowly sit back down, guiding yourself by using your arms. Repeat 10 times, twice a day.
Climbing the rope
Sit upright with good posture, and imagine you have a rope in front of you. Climb up the imaginary rope using your arms. This exercise will help improve posture and strengthen your arms and core. Do this for one minute, three times a day.
Note: Please consult your physician before beginning an exercise regimen.
The Daily Telegraph
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