Back Pain and the Pandemic: Why Your Back Hurts and How You Can Prevent Conditions Developing

The coronavirus pandemic has affected many areas of our lives. Beyond the direct health results of Covid-19, the outbreak has had a negative impact on our mental and physical wellbeing. Due to the many changes in the world of work since the outbreak, the move to home office – and the new and sometimes suboptimal working conditions associated with it – means that our backs are suffering. New studies show that the pandemic was accompanied by a significant increase in back pain in 2020. In this blog post, you will learn what causes back problems and how you can prevent them.

Rückenschmerzen treten vermehrt bei der Arbeit im Homeoffice auf.

The Pandemic and Its Consequences

The pandemic has brought numerous challenges to the private and professional lives of almost everyone, including uncertainty regarding the future. Much has been reported on the psychological aspects of Covid-19, with stress and depressive symptoms reaching new highs.

However, our physical well-being is also suffering from the pandemic. According to a health report by German insurance provider DAK, cases of work-related complaints have increased massively since the beginning of 2020. While the growth in mental illness absences was noted, the duration of sick leave also rose: an average of 14.5% longer than in 2019. Additionally, more work was missed through “adjustment disorders”. However, the most significant increase was in back pain and absences caused by it.

Back Pain: A Risk to Your Health

The results of the DAK health report showed that in the first year of the corona pandemic, employees were absent from work more often with back pain than they had been in previous years. More than every fifth day of absence in 2020 was associated with musculoskeletal problems.

Another study, the Swiss Back Report 2020, also confirmed back pain as one of the most common health complaints in contemporary society, moreover the main reason for physical impairments worldwide. This study shows that the frequency of back pain was extraordinarily high in the past year. Half of all respondents suffered from back pain, from several times a week to several times a month. Worryingly, as many as 21% of those surveyed suffer from chronic back pain, i.e. recurring pain lasting longer than 12 months.

Back pain has become much more common in the corona pandemic. Source: Swiss Back Report 2020, page 10

The increasing number of back problems correlates to the drastic changes in how we work. In home offices, people remain motionless in front of screens for even longer than they would in a normal office setting. Many of us still work at the kitchen table, or in other settings without appropriate office equipment. As a result, people suffer from working without proper regard to ergonomics. This leads to tension; neck, shoulder and back pain, and many other complaints that affect our overall well-being.

What Causes Back Pain?

The likelihood that a person will suffer from back pain is affected by certain risk factors that cannot be influenced, such as age or genetic predispositions. However, other factors can be controlled, including physical activity and stress at work. Back problems are often caused by muscle tension, poor posture or excessive strain at work. According to the Swiss Back Report 2020, office workers, who spend most of their working time in a sitting position, suffer disproportionately from muscle tension and the resulting back pain.

Studies show that people spend an average of 6 hours a day sitting, with one in five people sitting for more than 9 hours a day. 

As such, the phrase "sitting is the new smoking" is on everyone's lips these days. Back pain is often caused by staying in the same position for a long time, which is the same in an office or home office setting. Excessive sitting puts an unnatural and unhealthy strain on our body and muscles, and the consequences can’t simply be mitigated by exercising before or after work. In order to prevent and reduce back pain, physical activity must be integrated into everyday life.

Back Pain: The Consequences

Back pain can have a negative impact on many areas of our lives. Discomfort affects sleep in particular, which can have a significant impact on our well-being, productivity and performance at work. In more serious cases, back pain can result in an inability to work, which in turn may lead to limited employment prospects and accompanying financial worries. Beyond the office, back pain can restrict participation in sport and leisure activities, which can cause social withdrawal. 

This graphic from the Swiss Back Report 2020 shows the negative effects of back pain:

Source: Back Report Switzerland 2020, page 16

The consequences of back problems aren’t just limited to the physical and mental health of those affected: Chronic conditions can also have significant economic consequences. An increase in lost work or even early retirement, in addition to the cost of treatment, should not be underestimated.

How Can I Stop Back Pain, or Limit Its Negative Impact?

Ergonomics is a basic prerequisite for a healthy workplace. You should feel completely comfortable, and in an environment where you can prevent pain as best as possible. Basic ergonomic equipment includes an office chair that can be adapted to your physical needs.

To prevent back pain, you should take the time to adjust your office chair so that an ergonomic sitting position is guaranteed. You will need to pay attention to the seat’s height and depth, the resistance of the backrest, the height and alignment of the armrests, and the positioning of the lumbar support. The latter should give your spine the best possible shape. Find out here how you can best adapt your office chair to your body.

Once you have an office chair that is perfectly adapted to your body, you will still need to bring movement into your everyday work. Change your working position regularly, because sporting activities after work or at weekends cannot compensate for excessive sitting. It's important to switch between sitting and standing during work to relieve your back. Studies show that by switching between sitting and standing, back and neck problems can be reduced by up to 54%.

An electrically height-adjustable desk is suitable for this purpose. The desk can easily adapt to your needs at the push of a button, allowing you to sit or stand with minimum effort. When you stand, the spine straightens, which relieves the body and muscles. This not only leads to significantly less back pain, but also reduces shoulder pain, leg problems, relieves intervertebral discs and strengthens your bones and muscles. 

You can also prevent back pain by integrating exercise into your everyday work. For example, simply taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or using your break for a short walk in the fresh air, can be highly beneficial. Pay attention to your posture, avoid overloading, do more sport and relax regularly: physically and mentally.

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