Coronavirus: The WFH positions messing up your back and neck - and the stretches to ease any pain

Working from the sofa might seem like a novelty, but it could be causing you some serious back issues. (Getty Images)

Due to the spread of coronavirus and social distancing measures, working from home (WFH) has quickly become the new normal for those who are able to.

But, switching your ergonomically assessed work station for a stool at the dining table, your sofa or even your bed could see many of us on the creaky path to back and neck pain.

Couple that with the fact that we’re spending longer periods of time sitting while homeschooling, binge-watching Netflix or scrolling social media and as well as COVID-19, we could also see a pain pandemic, particularly as many of us are already suffering from back or neck ache.

According to a recent survey by one in four (24%) Brits admit to experiencing back pain every single day, with 11% feeling constant soreness in the back.

Surprisingly, it’s young people (ages 18-35) who are most likely to experience aches and pains in the back, with one in three (30%) feeling it daily, compared to only one in four pensioners (aged 65+).

That’s likely down to us spending so much time hunched in front of our screens, particularly right now.

Chartered physiotherapist and owner of Your Pilates Physio, Lyndsay Hirst says: “It's sustained postures that tend to lead to back pain, so as long as you get up regularly, change position, and exercise often, your risk of developing back problems from sitting on the sofa drastically reduces.”

But, it turns out some positions are worse than others in terms of the way we sit.

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Being forced to work from your bed could have a knock on effect on your back and neck muscles. (Getty Images)

Twisted - Legs on the sofa to the side of the body. Upper body twisted to face the TV/front of the room

“The spine is twisted here, so being sat in this position for a prolonged time may cause some discomfort in either the back or the hips,” explains Hirst.

“This position would cause additional problems if the person had some restrictions in their spine or pelvis, putting more strain on the facet joints of the spine.”

Boomerang - Slouching low in the seat with no lower back support with legs resting on another surface

According to Hirst, this slumped posture creates a curve to the spine that causes the fluid to be moved to the posterior part of the intervertebral discs, potentially putting pressure on them.

“The neck and shoulder muscles have to work harder than normal to keep the head upright, which could eventually lead to muscular discomfort,” she explains. “Sustaining this posture will also eventually lead to the weakening of the back and abdominal muscles, which in turn may cause back pain.”

Straight - Feet flat on the floor, back fully supported

Those who adopt this position can give themselves a pat on the back as it means the body is in perfect alignment. “The head is in line with shoulders and spine, and hips are in a neutral position,” explains Hirst.

But don’t be thinking you’re out of the pain woods just yet. “While this is an ideal seating posture, sustaining it for a long time will eventually cause discomfort, purely because the body is designed to move,” Hirst adds.

Slouched - Slouching low in the seat with no lower back support and feet on the ground (17%)

Just like the boomerang position, the back curve here puts pressure on the spine, while making it harder for the neck and shoulders to support the head. “Additionally, the thighs are not supported which would again put additional strain on the back,” Hirst explains.

Our backs and necks are being impacted by our work at home postures. (Getty Images)

Read more: Best apps to help you stay connected to loved ones while practicing social distancing

Back and neck stretches to try today

Now we know how we should and shouldn’t be sitting during these stay-at-home times, the experts at have put together some stretches to adopt while social distancing.

Chin to chest and ear to shoulder

Standing tall, gently bend your head forwards until your chin meets your chest and you can feel the stretch in the back of your neck. The next set involves the same principle as before, but this time bending your neck to one side to feel the stretch in the side of your neck, before doing the same on the other side.

Back flexion stretch

Lay on your back and pull both of your knees into your chest, while flexing your head forward at the time same. The aim is to feel a comfortable stretch across your mid and low back. 

Kneeling lunge stretch

You need to be on your knees for this stretch, and focus on one leg at a time. Firstly, move one leg forwards so that your foot is flat on the ground, place your hands on the tops of your thighs and gently lean forwards. You want to feel a stretch in the front of the opposing leg.

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Knee to chest stretch

Laying on your back once more, bend your knees and place both heels on the floor. From here you want to position both hands behind one knee and slowly pull it towards your chest. The stretch should be felt in and around your buttock muscles, but don’t forget to take each leg in turn.

Child’s pose

A popular yoga move, the child’s pose is great for stretching out your back. Starting out on all fours, you want to sit your hips back while reaching your arms out in front of you, feeling a stretch in your back. Once you feel the stretch, hold the position for 10 seconds, repeating a few more times.

Cat-Camel back stretch

While you’re on all fours, another stretch to attempt is the Cat-Camel back stretch. Begin by arching your back towards the ceiling and holding for five seconds; you then want to arch your back towards the ground (in the opposite direction) and hold again for five seconds, before repeating.