I’ve Returned to Work after a COVID-19 Furlough – Now My Back is Killing Me!

Orthopaedic & Spine Center


Jeffrey R. Carlson, MD

Even though our unwelcome houseguest is still hanging around, many people who were unemployed, laid off or furloughed because of COVID-19 are now returning to work out of economic necessity.  These folks are surprised to find that they are experiencing significant back pain, perhaps for the first time in their lives, and are coming to see me to find out what could be wrong.  In this article, I am going to detail the causes of this back pain, the symptoms and the treatment to get you on your feet and moving again, without that aching back.

Okay, here’s the part where I get real.  During your time at home:

  1. Did you lose weight?  How much? 10 or 20 pounds? Or more?
  2. Did you exercise every day?
  3. Did you stretch your body for at least 10 minutes a day?
  4. Did you work in the yard, mow grass or do any regular outside activity?
  5. Did you only work at an ergonomically correct workstation at home, where your computer screen was at eye level?

If you were able to answer these questions with a “YES”, good for you!  I probably haven’t seen you in the office for back pain.  If you answered “NO” to these questions, therein may lie the answers to the question of why your back aches.

The symptoms are low to middle back pain, aching, throbbing or stabbing. Occasionally, patients will have trouble standing upright or walking.  They usually feel better with rest, but not always.  I typically prescribe muscle relaxers and OTC anti-inflammatory medications, such as naproxen sodium for pain and inflammation, during the acute phase, with heat or ice, hot showers or baths.  I often also prescribe Physical Therapy for patients who are de-conditioned and need to strengthen their core and back muscles.  Physical Therapy also has modalities that can help reduce the inflammation and pain as well.

Have you ever carried a heavy suitcase or bag of groceries up a flight of stairs?  Remember the relief you felt when you were able to put the weight down?  If you’ve packed on the “Pandemic Poundage”, whatever that number is, your body is struggling with that added weight.  My advice is to take small, manageable steps everyday to clean up your diet.  Try shooting for the 80/20 rule – 80% healthy, unprocessed foods, and 20% fats, carbs and sugars.  Remember to watch your calories, as they do count.

Our body was made for movement.  Riding the sofa, eating pizza, candy and drinking soda, while binge watching Netflix is certainly fun, but it isn’t great for keeping our bodies in good condition.  Being out of condition and performing your best at your job really is a contradiction in terms.  You may not have done any cardio in ages, so you get winded easily.  Your spine and back muscles are overworked and tired, which can lead to tiny microtears and back spasms.  You haven’t stretched in forever, and your body is so tight that you can barely reach to the floor when you drop a paper, and when you do, you pull a muscle in your back.  You may have sat at a makeshift desk to work from home or balanced your laptop on a pillow while working from bed all day.  Not a recipe for a happy, healthy back. Take it from me.  For the sake of your back, body and wellbeing, start moving.  Take a walk, ride your bike, join a gym, stroll down the street window-shopping – just get some movement into your life every day.  Working in the yard counts, like mowing grass, weeding flower beds or raking leaves.  Always stretch before and after your activity and don’t do too much too soon, which is a common mistake.  You didn’t get this way overnight, but with time, patience, and dedication you will recover.



Make an appointment with Dr. Carlson or another OSC provider by clicking the “Request Appointment” button below or by calling (757) 596-1900.

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