Adjusting to this new work-from-home (or just plain stuck-at-home) life is taking a sneaky toll on our bodies. Cramped spaces, less movement and the temptation to stay horizontal while bingeing our favourite shows – it’s all catching up to us. Since a quick appointment to have the knots worked out isn’t an option, five health professionals offer advice on how to fix a few common quarantine injuries.
Stress plus increased screen time plus a lack of movement equals a rise in headache complaints, says chiropractor and acupuncturist Clara Leung, since a common cause of headaches is muscle tension due to poor posture.
“Our head is often reaching forward or down as we read our phones or computer screens, or bent at an awkward angle, like when we’re lying in bed reading," says Leung. “Every inch our head moves forward adds another 10 pounds of weight.” That can cause tight muscles and restrict blood flow, leading to neck pain and tension-type headaches.
She suggests holding your phone at face level and taking a break from screens every 30 minutes. To strengthen the muscles in your neck, stand with your back and head against a wall, tucking in your chin slightly (as though you were trying to make a double chin) and gently pushing your head back, using the wall for resistance. Hold for three seconds, then release for three seconds. Repeat 15 times.
If you’re feeling tightness around your head, the culprit might actually be your jaw, says Toronto-based registered massage therapist Alfie Vente.
Grinding or clenching your teeth, chewing on one side of the mouth or chronically maintaining a head-forward position can increase stiffness and pain. Vente reminds patients to be mindful of where their head is at (literally) and to breathe through their nose, since mouth-breathing can put your head in a forward position. Taking full, deep breaths can offset the habit of shallow breathing through the chest. Bonus: It also alleviates stress. To combat tightness, lightly massage your temples and jaw area – but wash your hands first.
PAIN IN THE LOWER BACK AND HIPS
Thanks to our newly quarantined (and therefore less active) lives, complaints of lower-back pain and hip tightness are on the rise.
Our lower backs have a natural inward curvature, says registered physiotherapist Rochelle Chung. “If the curvature is lost for a prolonged period of time – such as when we’re sitting on a couch – it can cause those tissues to fatigue or overload, leading to low-back problems and hip tightness.”
Stress and other knocks to our emotional well-being can lead to a hypersensitive nervous system and cause physical discomfort. To combat tightness in the lower back and hips, Chung recommends moving often, trying yoga poses such as cobra, upward dog or cat-cow, and breathing mindfully. She also advises using a lumbar roll when sitting on unsupportive chairs or soft couches to restore the natural curve in the back. (Don’t have a lumbar roll? Use a rolled-up towel instead.)
Office employees secretly rejoiced at the idea of working from home – no more commute, no more pants, and I can microwave fish whenever I want! Then they started experiencing tightness in their neck, shoulders, lower back and hips. Improvised desks on the couch or at the kitchen table aren’t doing our bodies any good. A desk that allows one to sit or stand is best to alleviate hip and lower back tension, says Chris Klachan, a chiropractor and acupuncturist with a specialty in ergonomics. “If that’s not an option, incorporate hip-flexor stretches, take breaks by standing up and lean back hourly.”
The ideal posture while working is one that keeps your ears over your shoulders and over your hips, explains Klachan. Imagine a string pulling your head to the ceiling and position the top of your screen at eye level in front of you. Ideally, your keyboard is at the level of your elbows, and your shoulders are relaxed. Avoid staying in the same position for too long, since variety and movement are better than a static posture.
With gyms closed, it seems everyone is now a runner – and with running can come shin splints, IT band pain and tight hips.
“Build gradually, incorporate daily mobility work and prioritize recovery,” says Lindsay Scott, a physiotherapist and running coach at the Runners Academy. She recommends talking (virtually, of course) to a clinician specifically trained to manage running-related injuries and assess gait patterns. “Technique is important to both performance and injury-prevention," she says. "Running is a skill, and like any other skill, it takes specific practice to get good at it.” Eager runners also need to allow their bodies to recover. For newbies, that means a day off between runs. More experienced runners should take a break at least once a week.
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