Back pain is said to be one of the most common conditions treated by rehabilitation specialists. However, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, rehabilitation specialists around the world, say they have seen an increase in patients with back pain.
The solution for getting relief from back pain after recovering from COVID-19 can be varied – from over the counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to surgical intervention – depending on the severity of your condition. However, maintaining a proper posture, simply learning to sit and stand smart, as well as lift heavy objects the right way, can help reduce your discomfort and lead to recovery.
Tayla Fleming, medical director of the Stroke Recovery Program & Aftercare Program at Hackensack Meridian JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute, New Jersey (US), confirms that there has been an increase in patients with back pain, those who have recovered from COVID-19. “We’re seeing patients with old back pain that is now worse from sitting more, new back pain related to habits that have changed due to the pandemic, and new back pain related to COVID-19 itself,” she disclosed.
Although physicians are still learning about the effects of COVID-19, back pain alone isn’t usually a symptom of COVID-19. People who have COVID-19 may experience muscle pain and body aches due to the body’s inflammatory response, which can be felt in the upper and lower back, says Dr Sagar Parikh, an interventional pain medicine specialist and Director of the Center for Sports and Spine Medicine at JFK Johnson.
“Some people may even experience muscle soreness, aches, and pain after the COVID-19 vaccine, which is normal and means that their immune system is doing its work. However, pain from overexertion usually lasts a few days, but the pain from COVID-19 may last days or weeks,” he said,
People who get COVID-19 may also spend a lot of time recovering in bed, which may lead to back pain due to de-conditioned muscles and altered spinal biomechanics. The conditions that cause back pain — including disc herniations, spinal arthritis and lumbar muscle strain, however, haven’t changed due to the pandemic. What has changed are people’s lifestyles and daily habits.
Working from home has also resulted in changed routines that may contribute to lower levels of activity. People who used to walk during breaks or stop at the gym for a workout on the way home from the office may no longer be participating in these activities, and the lack of movement may lead to weakened, tight muscles that contribute to back pain, doctors point out.
The fear of getting back to workouts or strenuous activity post-COVID-19 has also forced many active persons to take up a sedentary lifestyle to avoid risking themselves to complications. Many are also staying away from workouts to avoid pains and aches that might add to their worries and concerns during the pandemic.
Dr Fleming said she uses the acronym B-A-C-K to help her patients remember what they need to do to prevent and treat back pain:
Bust-a-move: Make movement a part of your day, whether you walk, bike, hike, stretch or dance.
Alarm: Set an alarm and make movement a routine – Doing some type of activity every half-hour, such as stretching or walking around, even while working.
Calm: Research shows that anxiety and lack of sleep can contribute to clenched muscles and pain in the body. Take steps to reduce stress through meditation or other calming activities.
Keep: Keep the environment ergonomically friendly by using a supportive chair with a lumbar pillow, avoiding hunching, elevating your computer screenand making other adjustments to reduce stress on the body.
A number of structural problems may also result in back pain.
Ruptured disks: Each vertebra in the spine is cushioned by disks. If the disk ruptures there will be more pressure on a nerve, resulting in back pain.
Bulging disks: In much the same way as ruptured disks, a bulging disk can result in more pressure on a nerve.
Sciatica: A sharp and shooting pain travels through the buttock and down the back of the leg, caused by a bulging or herniated disk pressing on a nerve.
Arthritis: Osteoarthritis can cause problems with the joints in the hips, lower back, and other places. In some cases, the space around the spinal cord narrows. This is known as spinal stenosis.
Abnormal curvature of the spine: If the spine curves in an unusual way, back pain can result. An example is scoliosis, in which the spine curves to the side.
Osteoporosis: Bones, including the vertebrae of the spine, become brittle and porous, making compression fractures more likely.
Kidney problems: Kidney stones or kidney infection can also cause back pain.
You might avoid back pain or prevent its recurrence by improving your physical condition and learning and practising proper body mechanics.
To keep your back healthy and strong:
Regular low-impact aerobic activities – those that don’t strain or jolt your back – can increase strength and endurance in your back and allow your muscles to function better. Walking and swimming are good choices. Talk with your doctor about which activities you might try.
Abdominal and back muscle exercises, which strengthen your core, help condition these muscles so that they work together like a natural corset for your back.
Being overweight strains back muscles. If you’re overweight, trimming down can prevent back pain.
Smoking increases your risk of low back pain. The risk increases with the number of cigarettes smoked per day, so quitting should help reduce this risk.
Don’t slouch. Maintain a neutral pelvic position. If you must stand for long periods, place one foot on a low footstool to take some of the load off your lower back. Alternate feet. Good posture can reduce the stress on back muscles.
Choose a seat with good lower back support, armrests and a swivel base. Placing a pillow or rolled towel in the small of your back can maintain its normal curve. Keep your knees and hips level. Change your position frequently, at least every half-hour.
Avoid heavy lifting, if possible. But if you must lift something heavy, let your legs do the work. Keep your back straight – no twisting – and bend only at the knees. Hold the load close to your body. Find a lifting partner if the object is heavy or awkward.