World Spine Day
Q: As a Chiropractor and the Director of Operations of the Assessment Centre, your team sees patients who have been impacted by musculoskeletal injuries. Given new lockdown restrictions and changes to office workspaces due to COVID-19, can you tell us about some trends you have begun to see, or expect to see, in spinal health?
A: The new lockdown restrictions have of course resulted in more people working virtually, whether that be from home or at their office desk. This can increase the likelihood of an individual being in a prolonged and sustained sitting posture which, in turn, can result in spinal musculoskeletal ailments related to such postures. Sustained seated postures can result in spinal soreness, stiffness and pain due to increasing stresses on various spinal structures including muscles and ligaments. The physical inactivity associated with prolonged sitting can also have a negative impact on spinal health. Fortunately, there are various prevention strategies that can be employed, some of which are discussed in the next two questions.
Q: What is the most important thing people should know about maintaining good spinal health?
A: Maintaining good spinal health is best served by alternating between sitting (with good posture and changing positions often while sitting), standing and movement/exercise throughout your day. While lockdown restrictions have limited our ability to attend the gym and colder weather is beginning to limit our ability to exercise outdoors, the good news is that for most people, some of the most effective and evidence-based strategies to maintain good spinal health can be done from home. These include avoiding prolonged sustained postures (such as prolonged sitting in one position), utilizing proper back mechanics and injury-avoiding techniques (including lifting with a straight back/neutral spine with your core engaged and load splitting heavier items or getting assistance with the lift if the load cannot be split), incorporating a home-based exercise routine involving gentle back stretches and core training exercises, as well as maintaining a healthy weight, all of which will help promote and maintain spinal health.
Q: For those who are working from home, what are your tips for preserving and/or restoring spinal health and well-being?
A: Working from home is generally associated with prolonged sitting. Some specific advice to manage this includes choosing a chair that provides you with appropriate support for your spinal curves; ensuring appropriate ergonomic postures with respect to your spine while sitting including adjusting your chair so that your feet are flat on the floor and thighs parallel to the floor; remove any wallet or other similar item from your back pocket while seated; take micro-breaks for stretching, movement and walking; change your position often while seated (i.e. avoid a single prolonged sustained posture while sitting); periodically switch to a standing position whenever able to while completing your job duties; and incorporate a daily exercise routine (including back stretching and core training exercises) during scheduled breaks and/or outside work hours.
Please note that the above advice and recommendations are for the average healthy individual looking to maintain spinal health. For individuals with a specific back injury or condition, they would be best served by visiting their Family Physician and/or local Chiropractor or Physiotherapist, who would be in the best position to provide a plan of management for the individual. For individuals with a back injury or condition, the most appropriate and effective management (such as appropriate relieving positions, stretches, exercises, etc.) can vary depending on the individual’s condition, the pattern of their symptoms (such as back dominant versus leg dominant pain), frequency of symptoms, and various other factors. Given the need for a tailored approach that most appropriately fits that individual’s back injury or condition, the best approach would be consultation and guidance by an appropriate and qualified healthcare provider.