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Staying under quarantine and working from home is stressful enough, but the hours spent sitting on a chair or curled up on the couch can also do a serious number on your back.
“With everything from our work lives to our workout lives, family gatherings and social lives living on a screen right now, we are seated more than ever before,” says Dr. Shalini Bhat, a Toronto-based chiropractor, Functional Medicine Practitioner (IFMCP, CFMP) and founder of The Movement Boutique. “Unless you had an ergonomist set up your desk and screen properly, your work from home setup could be leaving you vulnerable to lower back strain, tension and stiffness.”
The danger, Bhat says, is not that you’re sitting, but rather lies in the way you sit. “Sitting hunched over a laptop or with our pelvis rounding into our couch causes the back of our fascia (the fabric that surrounds our muscles, bones and joints) to stretch, and the front side of the body to get tight, creating a mismatch of tensional pull,” she says. “[Casting] our eyes down to a laptop, meantime, creates a ‘C’ shape in the spine, when the spine is meant to be in an ‘S’ shape,” Bhat continues. “And then when we get in that C posture, and then pop up to do a quick workout or something crazy on [already]-stressed tissue — that’s a recipe for injury.”
Fortunately, there are some easy ways to alleviate back pain without having to see a doctor. “Standing is better than sitting,” Bhat offers. “Put a timer on your phone to get up every 20 minutes.”
Bhat also suggests deep breathing exercises. “When we deep breathe, we help stretch the diaphragm, which is in the same vicinity as our hip flexors, which can contribute to lower back pain,” she says.
Need a little extra help to ease that back ache? Here’s what Bhat suggests.
1. Yoga Tune Up Therapy Ball
A set of roller balls like these ones can go a long way towards helping ease neck and shoulder stiffness, tight hips and lower back pain. This set comes with a mesh bag that lets you keep the two balls together if you want to roll out your spine or glutes.
Bhat’s suggestion: “Use these to roll out the bottom of the feet,” she says. “Place a ball under the bottom of your feet and roll for at least one minute. This fascia is connected to the fascia in the lower back and can help release tension.”
2. OPTP LO ROX Aligned Foam Roller
Whether you’re rolling out sore muscles after a workout or trying to relieve back pain, a foam roller is an essential part of your recovery kit. Bhat calls this one from OPTP a “personal fave.”
3. OPTP LO ROX Aligned Life Body Sphere Ball
Bhat suggests placing this ball on your abdomen to “work out the abdominal fascia and your quads.” This exercise ball can be used to help build core strength and can be positioned under your back to help improve posture.
Need a massage? Gently roll this ball under your back, legs, arms or anywhere you feel sore, to help release stiffness and knots. This is a lightweight, grippy ball that comes with its own pump for easy inflation.
4. Acumobility Ultimate Back Roller
One of the most popular tools for back pain is a yoga wheel or yoga roller. Yogis swear by it to help increase flexibility, but it’s also great for rolling out tough to reach areas like the upper and middle back.
This back roller is made from a tough EVA-molded foam that can support up to 1000 pounds of weight. The raised “bumps” help to create deep pressure points along your body; they also create a “spine gap” that lets your back roll more freely and naturally, as opposed to being jammed against a flat roller. Use this on the floor or pushed up against the wall for 10-15 minutes a day.
5. Yoga EVO Stretch Band with Loops for Physical Therapy
Bhat says a little stretching can go a long way towards strengthening your back. Her suggestion: “Start by lying on your stomach in a baby cobra position,” she says. “This can help stretch the abdomen and re-align any discs if the back pain is from a disc.”
From there, sit up and stretch it out with a set of stretching bands. This set is designed for physical therapy, helping you improve flexibility, elongate muscles and increase your range of motion. Video tutorials are included with this purchase, to help get you started. “Stretching,” Bhat says, can help you “de-stress, improve mindfulness and move a little bit, if you’ve been sitting all day.”
6. Theragun PRO
The popular Theragun percussive therapy device has been updated with a rotating arm and “QuietForce Technology” that delivers up to 60 pounds of force for a more targeted and effective massage. Use this on your sore muscles after a workout or to target knots and aches in your back. The ergonomic handle lets you pivot and place the device easily, to direct attention to where you need it most. The whole thing comes in a lightweight unit that’s as quiet as an electric toothbrush.