Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, health professionals are noticing how people have had to cope with exacerbated body aches that come with a less active lifestyle.
Back pain remains one of the most prevalent health problems and a leading cause of disability. About 80% of all Americans will experience lower back pain at some point in their lives, according to research by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
The pandemic has made this worse, according to Richard Thompson of German Village Chiropractors.
How has COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated back and spine issues?
Improper work-from-home setups and a decrease in daily activities are two main factors causing worsened muscle aches during the COVID-19 pandemic, Thompson said.
“Most people are not set up properly in an office, so they’re sitting on kitchen chairs, they’re sitting on a sofa with a laptop in her lap, and this just doesn’t help the back at all,” he said. “And people aren’t able to stick with their normal exercising routines, whether it’s going to the gym or taking yoga classes.”
Back and muscle pain are commonly reported by people with COVID-19. A 2020 study done by researchers in Turkey found that about 70% of 210 surveyed COVID-19 patients felt bodily pain, with 44% specifically citing back pain.
A high stress level and other psychological issues that people have been experiencing during the pandemic could also lead to more severe back and spine problems, said Dr. Elizabeth Yu, an orthopedic surgeon at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.
“When you have a lot of stress, that creates tension in your muscles. Untreated depression or anxiety can also add to increased pain,” Yu said. “The mind is a very powerful thing, so when your mind isn’t doing well, everything can get exacerbated.”
Pandemic posture? How to reduce neck and back pain while working from home
Why is back pain so common?
A majority of Americans will suffer from some type of back or spine problems during their lifetime. The problem is so prevalent that back problems cost Americans at least $50 billion in health care every year, according to an analysis by the American Chiropractic Association.
Improper lifting, weak muscles in the back and the stomach, aging and excess weight are all common reasons for back pain, Yu said. Other underlying health conditions such as smoking, autoimmune diseases and even untreated psychological distress could also contribute to back problems, she said.
Thompson, who has worked as a chiropractor for five decades, said he noticed an alarming trend of more young professionals having back problems due to the nature of their jobs.
“More people used to have jobs that required them to stand upright and do physical labor, but now, everyone is just sitting behind their computers for 40, 50 hours a week,” he said. “I’m seeing a lot more young patients struggling with back pain that I didn’t use to see earlier in my career.”
What can you do to prevent back pain?
As the pandemic enters its third year, having a proper work-from-home setup is essential for professionals to maintain their spinal health, according to Thompson.
He recommended a standing desk, chair with good lumbar support as well as a computer monitor with adjustable height that allows people to look straight into the screen.
“This is all to ensure good posture while you’re working,” Thompson said. “If possible, you’d want to get a standing desk. Or if you’re sitting all the time, you want to get up every 40 to 50 minutes and do some stretches before you go back to your job.”
Yu said it is important, even with the disruption caused by the pandemic, to remember to incorporate physical activities into your daily routines.
“It’s definitely important to exercise regularly, especially core strengthening exercises. “You want to exercise at least three times a week and aim for a combination of cardio work, strength training and stretching to keep your core strong.”
Yilun Cheng is a Report for America corps member and covers immigration issues for the Dispatch. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation at https://bit.ly/3fNsGaZ.