Written by Brian Yee PT, DPT, MPhty, OCS, FAAOMPT
“Why is my back and neck more sore when I am doing less while I stay at home and social distance?”
“I have never worked so hard in my life trying to make my business survive, take care of my kids as they are doing virtual homeschool, and just adjust to the every daily changing things that seem to happen! So why do I feel like my back pain is so much worse than before this pandemic started?”
“Life is so much easier now as I am home more. I am in my kitchen a lot now making things like homemade bread or taking care of things I did not have time to do before such as hanging picture frames and even gardening in the backyard. So why now is my body hurting more than ever before?”
These three questions or statements summarize the many comments I have been getting as I have seen some patients during this pandemic time. Perhaps you find yourself saying something along those lines too. Basically saying what in the world??? Is it not stressful enough just to have to go through this crazy time of social distancing, businesses shutting down or adjusting, applying for federal stimulus loans, and just dealing with everyday changes…to now having this nagging pain, that was once more tolerable, you now find is debilitating you from taking care of the other painstaking things you have to get through each day? You find that it makes life even more challenging and hard to fight through.
So why all of the sudden does it seem like your pains are amplified or you are experiencing new pains that you have never have had?
Here are a couple reasons why:
- Stress in of itself: Let’s face it, the vast majority of us are more stressed than we normally are. Even if you are not in financial distress during this time, there are new adaptations we have to work through on a near daily basis. Some of us may thrive in these situations better than others, but my bet is some form of stress and anxiety is brewing somewhere. It is well documented that stress and anxiety have a high correlation to one’s bodily pains. Stress and anxiety can make your pain receptors, called nociceptors, in your body become more sensitive to react. Stress and anxiety can cause us to tense up more and use our muscles to hold tighter, clinching our jaws, shrugging our shoulders, etc. For those who try to find ways to get a quick stress relief, we might even find ourselves working out harder to get that ‘runner’s high’…only to find that you pushed it too far and hurt yourself along the way. If this rings a bell to you, then the first tip is at least recognize that you have been in major ‘fight’ mode. Your reactions by the way you have tensed, acted, and felt are not normal and the stress of these times are perhaps getting to you. Take the time to recognize those stressors and find ways to gain ownership over them.
- New activities: This category is not to disregard those who have suffered in their health during this time. Instead, this pertains to those who have been fortunate to be able to stay home for the last 4-5 weeks and reinvent themselves and their lifestyles at home. How many times have I seen pictures of my friends on social media posting great meals they are making at home such as homemade breads, apple pies, and other wonderful culinary delights. How about DIY projects such as hanging picture frames along the walls, home garden boxes or other projects that were just waiting to have that time to get them done. All of it is great and no doubt the time to be able to have like this to spend at home, slow things down, and get things done around the house have all been a blessing. But, I have had many patients over these past few weeks that have developed new injuries or aggravated old ones by trying to do these things. The question is…how can making bread at home, hanging pictures or gardening in my backyard be a cause of my pains? Please recognize that your body is physically doing something new or different that causes it to be in positions it is not used to being in as well as for much longer times than you are used to. So practical tip for you: Take frequent breaks, keep moving, lay down if you even have to. Just know that you may feel like you’re doing less by standing there cooking or hanging your pictures, but realize that you are potentially putting more unaccustomed stresses to your body that you are not used to doing. Pain typically happens when you stress it beyonds its capacity. Take the time to not stress it so hard.
- Home ergonomics: I have a friend that is a middle school science teacher. His wife has been able to work remotely during this time and their three children have also been home doing virtual school. So there are now five people in one house, all in need of space to get their work and studies done. Looking around the house, there were not enough places to have a space of solitude for each person to be able to focus on their things. So what did he do? He quickly went to IKEA before everything shut down and got a cheap and tiny desk to stick in the corner of his guest room and call it his ‘home office’. By this way, he could get all of his teaching assignments done on Zoom calls for his students everyday. Mind you, my friend is 6 foot 4 inches tall. He is tucked in the corner behind a desk fit for a 5 foot 8 inch person and hunched over his laptop recording webinars about middle school science. Can you picture or imagine the strain on his body while he has been doing that EVERY SINGLE day since we have been quarantined??? Maybe you are not a science teacher, but I’m guessing you’ve been stuck on as many Zoom conference calls as I have been. You’re probably sitting on some random sofa or bed trying to get your work done because you do not have the same fancy ergonomic set up you have at your office. So yes, I bring this up simply for you to recognize that the place you are reading your emails, doing your Zoom calls, or other things that your body was not used to doing has possibly placed more stress on your body than you might imagine in it to. Simply put…make some changes to your home ergonomics set ups. You might be surprised how much it helps some of your pains diminish.
I hope you found this insightful. Hopefully you know that there are many of us that have experienced pains you are going through. Seek help if you need it, but first identify some of these stressors and make some changes yourself as well! Good luck! We will get through these times!