Working from home in the pandemic, while a welcome salve for the pain of the harrowing daily commute, is proving to be backbreaking for around 40 per cent of women aged 20-60 years. They are complaining of severe back, shoulder and neck pain. However, only 15-20 per cent of men are similarly afflicted. Experts have attributed the problem to improper sitting posture, sedentary nature of work and increased burden of domestic chores. Doctors say, they are daily seeing at least 5-6 patients complaining of various musculoskeletal issues, for which they are prescribing nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and asking patients to keep up with regular exercise.
Initially, WFH got the thumbs-up from employees, but long work hours, improper posture, lack of access to ergonomic chairs and inadjustable monitors have left many women with hurting backs. Apart from this, most women are forced to multi-task and are tackling household chores without help, while others are pursuing online education along with work. Doing heavy-duty lifting at home has taken a toll on women’s musculo-skeletal health, causing unnatural curvature in the spine. Shoulder and neck pain, along with spondylosis can set in when the cervical nerve gets pinched.
“We have witnessed patients complaining of severe back pain, as they have been scrambling to complete household chores, lifting heavy objects and managing office work. Every day, I see at least four or five female patients with various musculoskeletal issues, with back pain being the major contributor,” said Dr Kailash Kothari, interventional spine & pain management specialist at Apollo Spectra Hospital, Mumbai.
Dr Kothari said men did seem more relaxed compared to women, who shoulder the brunt of the burden of household work. Most men working from home had a sedentary lifestyle. “Men are not that affected but it is not as though they do not suffer back or neck pain. Around 20-30 per cent of men suffer severe back pain due to their sedentary lifestyle. Of late, we are also seeing patients with acute onset of backache as many have begun working out at gyms and they face muscle problems,” he said.
Dr Rakesh Nair, consultant knee replacement surgeon at Zen Multispeciality Hospital, said that most females who had knee problems have witnessed neck and back pain. Almost 70 per cent of my patients have complained of back and shoulder pain. “Because of the inability to get outside due to Covid, their sitting time has increased - computer-cum-TV time. Most of the time, anxiety-related issues also aggravate neck and back pain,” he said.
Dr Kothari said equitable division of household work and avoiding lifting heavy objects could alleviate back pain while muscle-strengthening exercises before daily activities would help.
“Women who are working from home should get up and take frequent breaks, use a chair with back support, place your monitor at a height, maintain a good posture and avoid hunching while working on the computer. Household chores must be equally shared by family members. If back pain persists, please do consult a doctor,” he advised.