Another work-at-home day rolls by. You find yourself in bed hunched over your laptop, preparing reports for your next Zoom meeting. These days, your job can drag on for 10 to 12 hours, blurring the separation of work hours and personal time. By the end of the day, you feel strain on your lower back and heaviness on your neck and shoulders.
The ECQ brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has led us to inevitably adopt a sedentary lifestyle. “Studies indicate that immobilization of the musculoskeletal system could lead to a significant decrease in muscle strength, atrophy (decrease in size or wasting away of a body part or tissue), endurance, and possible deteriorating effects on our bones,” says general physician and physical therapist Dr. Kim Villanueva.
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During this ECQ period, there has been a considerable increase in complaints of pains on the back, neck, shoulder, and head. Here, he shares some home remedies to manage it. He stresses though that these should not replace proper evaluation and treatment from a medical professional.
Why this is happening: “The occurrence of non-specific low back pains may be attributed to prolonged hours of sitting, static posture, and uncomfortable back support,” says Dr. Villanueva.
What you can do about it: Physical activity is still the best way to prevent back pains. He recommends the following exercises to relieve this condition.
• While lying on your back with both knees bent, cross one leg on the other knee. Repeat with the opposite knee.
• While lying on your back with both feet on the floor, place a towel on the ball of the foot. Holding the towel with both hands, lift the leg with knees straight until you feel a stretch at the back of your thighs. Hold the position for the recommended amount of time and do it on the other side.
• While doing the stretching, it’s essential to maintain the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat three times.
Here are some of the activities you can do after stretching:
• While lying on your back, arch your pelvis inward. Avoid squeezing the butt or lifting the hips.
• While lying on your back, arch the pelvis outward. Avoid arching the back when you do this.
• Repeat for at least 5 to 10 times.
• While lying on your back, tighten your lower abdominals, squeeze your buttocks then raise your buttocks off the floor.
• Hold for at least three seconds, repeat for ten times, and do it for three sets.
• While lying face down, lift your body on your elbows and toes. Try to maintain a straight back. Do not allow your hips on either side to drop.
• Hold the position for at least 20 seconds and do this three times.
Why this is happening: “The neck is mainly composed of bones that are stacked upon each other and are cushioned by cartilaginous discs. The muscles provide support and allow movements. The neck is susceptible to injuries because of its mobile features, and one of the leading causes of neck pain is improper posture,” explains Dr. Villanueva.
What you can do about it: For neck pain that is not attributed to a neurological condition and with the absence of numbness radiating to the arm or hand, you can do the following exercises.
Gentle active neck motions
While sitting on a chair, keeping your neck, shoulders, and trunk straight, perform the basic movements of the neck:
• Slowly turn your head to the left then bring it back to the forward position. Afterward, slowly turn your head to the right. Do this exercise for each side and repeat 10 times.
• Tilt your head to the right, moving your ear toward the right shoulder. Do this exercise for each side and repeat ten times.
• Bend your head forward, reaching your chin toward your chest. Hold this position for about five seconds and repeat five times.
• Tilt your head back, allowing your chin to point towards the ceiling. Hold this position for about five seconds and repeat five times.
Why this is happening: “The shoulder is composed of a freely mobile joint surrounded by ligaments and muscles, which allow you to move your arms and perform activities such as reaching and lifting. Inactivity and overuse are the most common causes of shoulder pain,” notes Dr. Villanueva.
What you can do about it: Here are some of the exercises you can do to ease the discomfort.
Lean forward and place one hand on a counter or table for support. Let your other arm hang freely at your side. Gently swing your arm forward and back. Repeat the exercise moving your arm side-to-side and repeat again in a circular motion. Do this 10 times for up to two sets. Repeat the entire procedure with the other arm.
Relax your shoulders and gently pull one arm across your chest as far as possible, holding at your upper arm. Hold the position for at least 30 seconds and do this three times. Repeat the entire procedure with the other arm.
Why this is happening: “Frequent headaches are one of the most common complaints of people who spend a considerable amount of time working, especially if they're on their computers, phones, or just watching the television,” says Dr. Villanueva. “There are many types of headaches ranging from migraines to tension-type.”
What you can do about it: “One of the ways to prevent yourself from having these kinds of headaches is to allow yourself to rest from using gadgets. Take short breaks, close and rest your eyes for about five to 10 minutes. Taking pain medications may also provide relief, but remember to consult a physician first before doing so. Proper nutrition, getting enough rest, and adequate physical activity is still the most important measures to prevent these,” he advises.
Prevention is better than cure
Sedentary behavior and low levels of physical activity can have negative effects on our health and quality of life. The World Health Organization (WHO) thus recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week, or a combination of both. Physical activity combined with proper nutrition and adequate rest is necessary to achieve an overall sound quality of health.
Here are some tips from WHO on how to stay active and reduce sedentary behavior while at home:
Take short active breaks during the day.
Choose from a variety of online exercise programs available on YouTube or other websites. If you have no experience performing these, be cautious and aware of your own limitations.
Walk around or in place. If you decide to go for a walk outside, be sure to wear a mask, maintain at least one-meter distance from other people, and follow quarantine guidelines.
Stand up whenever possible.
Perform meditation and deep breathing exercises that can help you to relax.