In times of COVID-19 and the lockdown, most people have been staying indoors and levels of activity have decreased significantly. House help has been unavailable, leaving people to do all the household chores. Work from home has become the new norm and we may see more of it even if the COVID-19 pandemic resolves. Online education is being imparted, where students have to sit for long hours in front of laptops or mobiles, often maintaining an incorrect posture on the bed rather than using a table and chair. Sitting at the desk or on the sofa watching TV for a long time weakens and tightens muscles, stiffening the back, shoulders and neck.
A survey conducted at UK’s Institute for Employment Studies (IES) found that more than half of those who responded, said they were experiencing new neck, shoulder or back pain. Maintaining a healthy diet and exercise plummeted over a fortnight since, with 60% saying they are exercising less, a third eating less healthily and 20% saying they were consuming more alcohol. Almost two-thirds (64%) of the 500 respondents said they were sleeping less, while 48% said their new working life involved increased and irregular hours.
New lockdown rules have probably caused one to lose momentum when it comes to workout routine and daily exercise; outdoor leisure activity and entertainment have diminished. This seems to have impacted not just mental but physical well-being as well, causing people to reach out to the doctor with complaints of muscle pain. The common causes of muscle pain we see nowadays include:
MUSCLE CRAMPS: Muscle cramp is a sudden contraction of one or more muscles. This can be intense and sometimes even lead to muscle injury. Sitting for long hours in a particular posture can lead to muscle cramps along the upper back, shoulder blade and calf muscles. These can be treated by gentle stretching exercises, massage, hot fomentation and good hydration.
MUSCLE STRAINS: Muscle strains are injuries due to sudden strenuous contraction of the muscles or a vigorous sudden stretching of the muscle leading to damaged muscle fibres. These are often seen due to unaccustomed or incorrectly done exercises. People are adopting new exercises by watching videos without proper supervision and preparation, resulting in muscle injury. These are treated by rest, ice fomentation, splintage and anti-inflammatory medications.
OVERUSE INJURIES: Overuse injuries or repetitive stress injuries are due to a small strain being applied very frequently. This happens due to bad posture with excessive repetitive pressure on a particular muscle or indulging in a particular motion frequently thus causing excessive localised muscle strain. An example is that of a tennis elbow when an individual may develop persistent pain along the outer side of the elbow because of some simple repetitive activity such as doing household chores like lifting, repetitive wrist extension, etc. To treat, one needs to rest the part, and couple it with Ultrasonic Therapy with a Physiotherapist and anti-inflammatory medicine. It is most important to correct what you are doing wrong and perform the repetitive activities in a manner which will not be strenuous for the muscle. This can be done by correct position of joints e.g. keeping a soft support under the wrist joint so as to reduce the extension at the wrist while typing. Correct posture at the work station with elbows rested and back supported will reduce the risk of neck and shoulder pain.
MUSCLE PAIN DUE TO ARTHRITIS IN ADJACENT JOINTS: A number of patients with knee arthritis whose mobility levels have decreased are suffering from pain, not just in the knee joint but also the muscles of the thigh and the calf.
MEASURES TO PREVENT MUSCLE PROBLEMS:
− Regular gentle stretching exercises focusing on all relevant muscle groups; listen to your body and dial up or down as needed or as much as can be tolerated. Use your doorway for a full body stretch
− Aerobic exercise like walking should be done regularly within the house
− Deep breathing exercises and a positive optimistic outlook to reduce stress
− Endurance exercises involving lightweights and multiple repetitions for muscle groups which are more prone to problems
− Hot fomentation and gentle massage for tight muscles
− Regular hot water bath
− Drinking lots of water and having a healthy well balanced diet
− Avoid sitting in one position continuously for too long
− Regular change of posture and breaks from prolonged sitting with walks and movement exercises
− Avoid posture which specifically strains one muscle group
− Body postures should be such that the head and neck lie along the centre of gravity axis
− Postures should be such that none of the muscle groups are under constant tension
− Workstation should be designed so that the computer screen is at a height, backrest supporting the back and elbows supported on the table. Soft silicon support under the palms so as to avoid wrist hyperextension. Scapular retractions can be done while sitting to reduce neck pain
− While doing household chores avoid excessive loads at one go and divide a heavy job into small lighter sections
− Take a break in between activities. Movement breaks are better than standing breaks
− In case of any pain please consult your doctor for treatment
(Disclaimer: The author is Dr Kaushal Malhan, Director Orthopaedics & Joint Replacement surgeon, Fortis Hospital Mulund. Views expressed are a personal opinion.)