Melbourne during the Covid-19 crisis has presented many and diverse challenges for our community.
Suddenly many people were sent home to continuing working in less than ideal workplace environments, home learning stress and poor learning environments become an issue, diets and drinking habits often took a turn for the worse, access to the services that helped people remain active were cut (gyms, pools, organised sport, exercise classes), people livelihoods have been threatened and real health concerns exist from the virus itself; and this is just a few of the issues facing us in 2020.
I count myself fortunate that through it all I have been able to continue to serve my community in my private practice and have the stability of continuing to consult (on a somewhat restricted basis) on a ‘face to face basis’. Unlike my poor wife that has had to carry the load of home schooling two primary school children and work from home; without much help from me!
What I have found over the last 6 months is that I have been surprising busier that I had expected. Whilst we complied with the rules of social distancing, minimising contact and population movement, there has been a strong need for our services.
Back and neck pain is an acknowledged multifactorial issue with a multitude of known and unknown contributing factors.
By no means is this article able to list all the factors at play. This is my perspective on some of the key elements presented by the Covid crisis and why so many people are suffering increased muscular and skeletal pain.
Around early April many Australians were suddenly sent to work from home. It is estimated that at least half of Australia’s workers have spent time working from home. In Melbourne this may have been for many months and may continue for many months to come.
Previously, workplace ergonomics were a premium issue but in these times of crisis, most were just happy to have a job and made no complaints about working with a laptop from the kitchen table. Supply and demand meant that office chairs and desks were not available.
These poor ergonomics environments have increased the strain on our posture and resulted in neck, back pain and headaches.
Seek advice from your practitioners and look at online ergonomic resources. Many practitioners are happy to provide free basic advice.
Where to start! Financial uncertainty, isolation, workplace uncertainty, job losses, business closures, remote learning, family anxiety, media negativity and fake news, social media, conspiracy theories, fear of the disease, global crisis, etc etc have all ramped up anxiety, depression and fear. Very few people have been immune and those with pre- existing mental health concerns have been amongst the hardest impacted.
There is a well-established link between the ‘psycho and social’ aspects and muscular and skeletal pain.
There are many resources available to help people manage these issues.
Talk to your GP, other practitioner’s, Beyond Blue, R U OK website, Mindfulness apps, regular gentle exercise, stay connected with friends and family, eat a healthy balanced diet, alcohol is a depressant for many and if consumed in excess, maintain a health sleep pattern…
This has become a major issue. In a person’s usual day, incidental activity contributes a significant and important component of our daily activity. Walk to the train stop, walk to office, walk to get a coffee, walk to a meeting, walk to the other end of the office to the toilet, all contribute to mobility and break the stasis of sitting all day.
Today we move from one meeting to another with a click of a mouse. Then, once a day full of online meetings have occurred, people get onto their days work!
And for those not working, the motivation to move more has been taken over by Netflix and online shopping.
From my families experience our daughters have been wearing activity monitors for a few years and we regularly notes they would easily get 10000 steps per day with school etc. Early in the Covid lockdown they were struggling to achieve more than 3000 steps.
Our solution; we pay our kids $1 per day for 8000 steps per weekday and 10000 steps on weekends and they can spend the money on whatever they want at the end of lockdown.
Play with some ideas on how to increase your activity to reduce risk of back and neck pain, and also diabetes, cardiovascular and mental health complications.
Loss of exercise options:
I have spent the past 20 plus years encouraging active participation in all manner of exercise. The saying is ‘Motion is Lotion’.
Obviously being active, keeping fit and strong, are essential in a healthy mind and body. Since the shutdown, gyms haven’t been open more than a few weeks in the past six months, gentle exercise like hydrotherapy hasn’t been available to the elderly or those who find impact exercise problematic and online Pilates/yoga etc are harder to commit to and lack the vigilant supervision that many need.
There are also issues around achieving all your daily movement in one 60 minute block and very little movement for the rest of the day.
Try to move often and do a variety of movements.
Explore all the free resources available online and talk to your health care provider about more personalised options if you need.
Commonly I have heard people complain that they have put weight on and have not been eating well. The statistics also show alcohol sales have increased by as much as 20% even with pubs and restaurants closed.
Less activity, decreased strength, poor posture, putting on weight, poor diet and increased alcohol consumption all lead to increased mechanical stress on the body, less capacity to physically support ourselves and increased inflammation.
Of concern, I have also anecdotally observed that people are reporting much more frequently use of medication’s like Panadol and anti-inflammatories to manage pain.
Hopefully, this is food for thought and will challenge people to think about how to contribute to improving their health.
If you are stuck, reach out to your trusted practitioner, whoever they may be.
Keep healthy and safe.