If you're reading this hunched over on the couch, or propped up on pillows in bed, you can bet there are lots of people in the same situation. With much of the country working from home, and probably continuing to do so in some form for the foreseeable future, we're all making do right now. Unfortunately our new way of working isn't all that ergonomic in many cases, and it's giving a lot of people back and neck pain.
"People are — a lot of times — working in spaces that aren't ergonomic," explains Dr. Ron Riesenburger, neurosurgeon and director of the spine center at Tufts Medical Center. "A lot of people have makeshift offices. They're using chairs without proper support, without proper cushioning. And I think a lot of times they don't even have a desk."
So, Riesenburger continues, "They're putting their computer on their lap or something like that, and that really forces them to hunch over sometimes in a very awkward position. That awkward position can put added stress on the muscles of the neck and the muscles of the back."
If back pain isn't a chronic problem, but something that's flared up from a new working- or studying-from-home situation, what can you do to get some relief?
"I highly recommend frequent changes of position, rolling back of shoulders and wearing postural braces around the house," says Dr. Amir Vokshoor, diplomate at the American Board of Neurological Surgery. "It's important to be cognizant of posture at all times with possible use of technology to remind us on a periodic basis to change posture to counter the kyphosis [rounding of the spine] that we are prone to."
Below, we've broken down their advice and some products that might help you while you're home.
One way to make sure you won't have a sore back is a posture-correcting device, many of which you can order easily online.
BackEmbrace ($59.99; amazon.com)
Designed to be worn while working or sitting, this posture corrector is a doctor favorite. "I recommend it to my patients who struggle with maintaining proper alignment," says Vokshoor. "Unlike so many posture correctors on the market, BackEmbrace has uniquely adjusting straps that are extremely effective in retracting the shoulders."
Upright Go 2 New Posture Trainer and Corrector for Back ($99.99; amazon.com)
If you'd like to train yourself to sit up straight, this gadget and app may work for you. Just stick the device on your back, and it will vibrate if your posture is poor and will also track your progress. You can turn off the buzzing; if you do, your phone will let you know if you've had bad posture for 15 minutes straight. We dug the device when we tried it out, so you can read our review here.
Posture Corrector for Men and Women ($19.38; amazon.com)
This posture corrector straightens shoulders and back and is a quick way to stop slouching and hunching when sitting with rounded shoulders. Writes one reviewer, "I've started to feel the therapeutic effect already after a couple of days."
Massagers and foam rollers
"They typically don't provide long-term relief, but in the moment or if you're trying to get to bed and you're having a lot of pain, I think it can be helpful," says Riesenburger of personal massagers.
Resteck Massager for Back and Neck ($64.95; amazon.com)
Amazon reviewers love this heated massager, which has various heat, speed and direction settings and simply wraps around your back and neck.
Writes one happy customer, "As someone who has chronic neck and upper back tension, I wanted to look into a kind of massager that would both be effective and fairly priced. This product is definitely both of these!"
Snailax Memory Foam Massage Seat Cushion ($56.99, originally $66.99; amazon.com)
Turn your chair into a massage treatment with this vibrating seat cushion. It's packed with memory foam, six massage motors targeting various areas of the back, neck and legs, and three heating pads, meaning you can get really toasty.
It's loved by Amazon shoppers, with one writing, "This massage cushion has saved me time after time. I've probably had it for four or five months now. My office chair that I use to work from home was giving my hip and lower back terrible pain."
Treat your muscles to a deep massage with this foam roller that is large enough to give you a full-body massage and ease muscles. There's a smaller 18-inch version as well.
Improve your work setup
"It sounds very basic, but just having a desk and a chair with good support so you can really sit up straight and have good posture and avoid hunching forward can be helpful," says Riesenburger.
Stand Steady X-Elite Pro Standing Desk Converter (starting at $189.99; amazon.com)
A standing desk converter not only lets you turn your kitchen table into a standing desk, which is great for posture, but also allows you to position your computer keyboard so you don't slouch even when you're working from your coffee table.
Stander Omni Tray Table ($148.70, originally $169.99; amazon.com)
This laptop and writing table places your work at an optimal height, so you're not hunching over on the couch all day.
Move a little!
One simple cause of pain? People are moving less right now. "You may not realize it, but most people who are employed are really moving a lot," explains Riesenburger. "The few minutes to an hour of walking people get each day — during a commute, walking to a bus stop or walking from the office to the parking garage — add up. Even if you're not employed, you're going to the store, you're doing things."
How to combat that lack of movement when you're working from home? A little bit of exercise helps a lot, says Riesenburger. "I think that you should try and do whatever you can at home," he says. "Walk around a small apartment. Something like a trampoline is great if you have access to it. If you have a treadmill, that's a great thing to do a few times a week. Or a bike, and I know some people have a stationary bike at home."
Sunny Health & Fitness SF-T7603 Electric Treadmill ($339.95; amazon.com)
This folding treadmill makes hitting your steps goals easy without leaving the house, and comes with a three-level manual incline.
Bcan 38" Foldable Mini Trampoline ($89.99; amazon.com)
Jump or run in place on a mini trampoline to burn calories at home, our experts advise. This one can easily fold up and be stored away, or even slide right under your bed.
Echelon Smart Connect Bike EX5S ($1,639.98; echelonfit.com)
This stationary bike has all the bells and whistles of competitors like Peloton and NordicTrack, but is much easier on your wallet. Instructors take you through rides that will help strengthen your core, which can improve back problems. Read our full review.
When you might need to see your doctor
"If someone is having pain that's ongoing for longer than six weeks, they should reach out to their doctor," says Riesenburger. "Having pain for a few days can be normal. It's okay to just try and see if you can get by with home remedies. But at the six week mark, you should call."
Note: The prices above reflect the retailers' listed prices at the time of publication.