By Dr. Russell Amundson, National Medical Director, UnitedHealthcare

Even as we learn to live with the persistent spread of COVID-19 in Nevada and nationwide, the pandemic’s repercussions will likely be evident for years to come. One such outcome is the wider adoption of remote work, with approximately 45% of Americans now telecommuting either all or part of the time.

This means that for some people office furniture may have been replaced by makeshift desks and household chairs, or even a spot working from a sofa or bed. Such setups typically lack the same ergonomic design as a traditional office, and over time can contribute to an array of health issues, including back pain or other orthopedic problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome or tendinitis.

In fact, an estimated 50% of U.S. adults are affected by so-called musculoskeletal conditions, with associated treatments for these issues accounting for 10% of annual medical expenses.[1] When it comes to back issues, about 80% of people experience this condition at least once during their lifetime.

While sometimes back pain and other orthopedic problems can’t be avoided due to previous injuries or other factors, it’s important for people to focus on their CORE, which stands for correct posture, overweight (avoid it), relax, and exercise. To build on that concept, here are three strategies and evidence-based care methods to consider to help prevent or treat this common issue.

Focus on Posture. Whether you are now working at the kitchen table or on the couch, focusing on proper posture may help. Make sure you are sitting up straight with your knees at a 90-degree angle, with your shoulders in a straight line over your hips and your ears directly over your shoulders. If you’re working at a computer, adjust the screen height to eye level and consider elevating the keyboard to help keep your hands, wrists and forearms in line and parallel to the floor.

Stay Active. While some people with back pain or other muscular issues may be tempted to consider rest, staying active in many cases may be the best option. Low impact activities to consider include walking and swimming, while research indicates that strengthening leg muscles may also prove helpful. You might also try yoga and tai chi, as they’ve been shown to ease moderate to severe back pain. If time is a factor, a brief walk at lunch or going up and down the stairs a few times can help you stay active.

Examine Your Options. The American College of Physicians recommends exercise-based therapies first, including nonsurgical options such as physical therapy, chiropractic care, acupuncture and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs. To make access even more convenient, new virtual physical therapy options have emerged, including some that provide users with on-demand, 24/7 exercise feedback powered by artificial intelligence. These noninvasive options, which in some cases may be included as part of your health benefit plan, may help 95% of people with low back pain recover after 12 weeks.

Even for people with chronic back pain, only a small percentage may need imaging or surgery. Taking these preventive steps – and selecting evidence-based care approaches when issues arise – may help reduce the risks and complications associated with back pain and other orthopedic issues.

[1] Healthcare Economics analysis of UnitedHealthcare claims, 2020