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Sat down for 11 hours a day spikes back problems

Catherine Quinn, President - British Chiropractic Association
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The British Chiropractic Association (BCA) has launched new research investigating the impact long-term lockdown restrictions have had on the nation’s physical wellbeing and routines. The study polled 10,000 people from around the UK and found Brits now spend an average of 11 hours a day sat down. One in four people have experienced new symptoms of back pain since March, as a result of lifestyle changes such as working from home.

Of those experiencing new symptoms of back pain, only 14% have spoken to their employer and received support. Another 14% have spoken to their employer, but action or support hasn’t yet been provided. 72% of people haven’t spoken to their employer at all about the back pain they’re experiencing. Those working in accountancy, finance, IT, recruitment and HR are amongst the highest sectors experiencing new back pain symptoms since March.

The survey, conducted with OnePoll and the BCA, looked at areas including work, exercise, sedentary habits, sleep quality and diet. With 43% of Brits working from home throughout this period, all age groups have found exercise the most challenging routine to stick to, and it is the routine they want to most improve in 2021.

Catherine Quinn, President of the British Chiropractic Association, said: “Working from home is one of the biggest lifestyle changes lockdown has brought to our lives. With the nation in the second round of lockdown and the prospect of home working a much longer-term reality, we wanted to understand the impact this period has had on the nation’s physical wellbeing. For those working from home, many of us have moved from offices with ergonomic chairs and desks, to make-shift workspaces, such as using the kitchen table or sofa. This can have a knock-on effect for causing or acerbating symptoms of back pain, as these spaces aren’t designed to work from long term.

“Unsurprisingly, these changes have started to take their toll, with one in four of us experiencing new symptoms of back pain since lockdown, with a particular prevalence amongst younger professionals. Despite the rise in back pain, our data suggests that only a small number of people have reached out to their employer to let them know about the symptoms they’re experiencing and ask for support. We’re all learning how to adapt to the new world of remote working, but I would encourage anyone who is experiencing symptoms of back pain to reach out to their employer. Back pain is one of those symptoms that can put to the back of our minds, but it builds up if left over time and can cause longer term issues if ignored.

“The good news is that simple changes can make a really big difference to all age groups. We know that people are motivated to improve their routines, such as exercise and getting outside each day, and this will really help. My main piece of advice to anyone struggling with their back health and general wellbeing is start small and build up – it could be as simple as a 10minute yoga routine in the morning, doing one work call a day standing up, or popping out for a 20minute walk over your lunch break. The most important thing is creating a routine that works for you.”

Other key insights from the study include:

  • Nearly two thirds (57%) of people are spending more time sitting down than before lockdown
  • Exercise and getting outside each day are the hardest routines to stick to, with 42% of Brits not finding time for these in the week
  • Men are nearly twice as likely (41%) to stick to new routines than women (23%)
  • 37% of Brits say personal motivation will be the biggest barrier to improving routines, if lockdown continues into 2021
  • Young people have experienced the biggest impact to their physical wellbeing through lockdown lifestyle changes, with 18-24-year olds experiencing more symptoms of back pain since March than over 55s.
  • Weather trumps lockdown restrictions – 56% of people think the winter weather will have a bigger impact on routines such as exercise, over increasing lockdown restrictions
  • Nearly a third of people have experienced poor sleep quality during lockdown
  • One in four Brits have experienced new symptoms of back, shoulder and neck pain during lockdown
  • To manage feelings of tension and back pain, 25% of people have purchased self-support tools, but only 15% have consulted their GP or a chiropractor (10%). Nearly half of people haven’t sought any support at all yet (46%)
  • Looking to 2021, the biggest priority for people’s lifestyle is getting into a better exercise routine (47%), followed closely by spending less time sitting and more time outside (42%). Spending more time with family and friends (35%) is an equal priority as having a better sleep routine (35%) and balanced diet (37%)

Catherine’s top tips for better back health…

  1. Build a routine that’s realistic and works for your lifestyle. Incorporating movement into your day is so important, but many of us set unmanageable goals for exercise. When we don’t achieve these goals, which are far reaching to start with, this then impacts our motivation, making us less likely to create new positive habits for our wellbeing. It’s great to set longer term intentions, but start small, for example taking a 15-20-minute walk on your lunch break. Over time this will become almost an automatic habit and you can build it up from there – it’s all about manageable bitesize chunks!
  2. Our bodies love variation, so try to mix up the position you work in – if you work at a desk or table, consider a laptop stand which will allow you work standing up. It’s also totally fine to get creative – I’ve used my kitchen counter and a chest of draws before as a DIY standing desk. Just make sure your screen is eye level. Stacking books is a good way to easily add height. If you’re like me and the workday whizzes by without looking at the clock, try scheduling a ‘standing hour’ in your diary as a reminder
  3. A great night’s sleep is a game changer – it’s all too easy to scroll through your phone from bed, and before you know it an hour’s gone. Try and protect the hour before you go to bed as your personal wind down time. My tips include avoiding blue light tech – most phones have a night-time mode, which changes the screen light and stops notifications coming through. I find reading a great way to nod off – apps like Calm have bedtime stories designed specifically to help you drift off, if you prefer to listen. Again, the main thing is about consistency and sticking to similar timings each night, so you train your brain for your new routine
  4. With changing lockdown restrictions and generally poorer weather on the way, getting outside to exercise or going to the gym is harder. To look after your back health there are lots of easy exercises you can do at home. One of my favourites is using a towel like a foam roller and lying with your back across it – this will really help open up your chest. Your body will love you for it if you tend to hunch over your keyboard (which I definitely do at times!)
  5. Speak up! If you’re experiencing persistent symptoms of back, neck or shoulder pain don’t suffer in silence. You can speak to your employer, a GP or chiropractor for advice and support.

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