Remote work leads to increased back pain Other health issues / Public News Service

As remote work has grown across the country during the COVID pandemic, with nearly half of all Americans telework some or all of the time, the California Center for Jobs and the Economy found 40% of California workers could do their work entirely at home.

While many Californians have taken advantage of the freedom of remote working, the switch to makeshift desks and chairs, or even somewhere to work from a couch or bed, has had less than pleasant consequences for health.

Dr. Russell Amundson, national senior medical director for UnitedHealthcare, said more and more Americans are reporting musculoskeletal pain.

“They work from household furniture in a non-ergonomic setting,” Amundson pointed out. “And with that, they lose some of that support. And that has actually, according to research, contributed to an increase in lower back pain among people working from home.”

Amundson advised the best solution is prevention, emphasizing what he called the acronym CORE.

Telecommuters should practice correct posture, avoid being overweight and heavy lifting, remember to relax and stretch for five minutes every half hour, and exercise to increase circulation and blood flow, with suggestions for low-impact exercise like walking and swimming. He added that yoga and tai chi have also been shown to improve and reduce moderate to severe lower back pain.

Amundson reported that while 95% of low back pain symptoms resolve in about 12 weeks, Californians should be on the lookout for signs of a more serious health issue.

“Obviously if you’ve had a trauma, or if there’s a history of cancer or tumors, if you have a fever or if you lose function — you know, loss of strength and loss of feeling — those are what we call red flags,” Amundson pointed out. “This is where you want to contact your health care provider.”

Burton Cowgill, adjunct assistant professor in the department of health policy and management at the UCLA School of Public Health, said that even with the best furniture, sitting for long periods of time, at home or in the office, can increase the risk of health problems such as metabolic syndrome and hypertension.

Cowgill pointed out that regular exercise before or after long periods of sitting did not show risk reduction, but getting up and moving around several times a day did.

“We really engineered the ability to get up and walk out of our normal day because technologies have changed,”
observed. “In a perfect world, that means about every 30 minutes at least getting up for a minute or two, or if it’s an hour to two hours, at least five minutes.”

Disclosure: United Healthcare contributes to our health issue reporting fund. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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