By Grigory Goldberg, MD
Video conferencing platforms and other remote working options may have been the heroes for businesses over these last several months of working from home, but they certainly haven’t been saving you from back and neck pain.
Zooming in to Back and Neck Pain
An increasing number of people are now suffering from back and neck injuries resulting from:
- Improper workstation set up. Thanks to the Occupational Safety and Health Act, office workspaces are typically designed to ensure that employees have an ergonomically correct set-up to reduce work-related musculoskeletal disorders. But with the rapid shift to working from home, those measures were never put in place for most workers, leaving them to create makeshift stations that are improperly set up to support the muscles in the back and neck.
- Longer hours, fewer breaks. The blurred line between work life and home life means that many employees tend to stay in front of their computers longer while taking fewer breaks, creating extended periods of muscle strain on the back and neck.
- It should come as no surprise that the prolonged stress of juggling the job, family, and even schooling in some cases can tighten the muscles in both the back and the neck.
Any or all of these factors can create significant pain and discomfort regardless of whether you are predisposed to back and neck issues or have never suffered from them before.
You can avoid these aches and pains by modifying your workspace and adding frequent breaks and stretching into your day.
Healing at Home
If you’re already suffering from back and neck pain, consider using a warm compress or getting a massage. Anti-inflammatory medications can also help alleviate the pain but bear in mind that using these medications for an extended period of time can irritate your stomach or may even stop working for you.
If the pain persists after a few days or you begin experiencing numbness or tingling down the arms or legs, that’s an indication that you may be suffering from a pinched nerve or disc.
Ultimately, you know your body better than anyone else. Never do anything that causes more pain because that’s a red flag that you’re increasing the inflammation and that it may be time to see a specialist.
Exploring Treatment Options
The good news is that 80% – 90% of patients respond well to conservative treatments like medication, physical therapy or epidural and transforaminal steroid injections. Although the best results come from a combination of therapy and injections, not all patients have the tolerance or time for certain treatment options, so adjustments can be made accordingly to get the best outcome.
Surgery is generally only considered when conservative treatments fail. Within the last five to 10 years, there have been significant advancements in minimally invasive spine surgery that enable most patients to undergo spinal decompression or fusion surgery, for example, with less muscle damage and less downtime. In fact, most of these patients are released from the hospital or surgery center the same day or after only one night in the hospital.
And if the thought of going to a medical office to have your musculoskeletal issues checked out during a pandemic scares you, consider that New Jersey has among the lowest COVID-19 case numbers in the country. That, coupled with strict health and safety protocols for medical offices, including temperature checks, mask requirements, staggered appointment scheduling and sanitization standards, means a visit to your doctor’s office is a low-risk step to becoming pain free.
Grigory Goldberg, MD, is a fellowship-trained spine surgeon at Seaview Orthopaedics, specializing in the minimally invasive treatment of spinal disorders and all aspects of spine surgery.