By Amy Gillespie, Physiotherapist
Over the last month or so, a lot of us have had to work from home and often in not very ideal workplace setups. This has caused an increase in the amount of neck and back pain I have been seeing in my patients. There are a number of reasons for this, firstly your workplace setup may be less than ideal, and a lot of us have to work from places such as the dining room table, the couch and even the floor! There are a lot of people who don’t have a dedicated office space or if they do, they may have to share it with others in their household. Another reason I have come across recently, is that with the move to more people having sit-stand desks at work, people aren’t used to or conditioned for sitting during their entire workday anymore. I had a conversation with a patient recently who was wondering why they had developed neck pain, the penny dropped when we figured out that he has gone from sitting four hours daily, to eight hours daily as he doesn’t have the option to be up and standing for half the day like he would in the office. Talking with patients it also seems that some feel they are sitting for longer periods during the day without the ‘posture breaks’ as I like to call them. In an office situation, you often have the lure of the coffee machines and a number of disturbances from colleges or customers asking questions, which mean you generally have to change posture somewhat to talk to them.
There are a number of strategies that you can use to help with neck and back discomfort that you may be experiencing, trying to set your workstation up as well as possible if the first important strategy. I had a video consultation with a client last week and they had developed mid back pain since working from home, he had figured out that when he set up his monitor he had put it off to the side of the desk on an angle, instead of straight in front like he usually would have it. Little changes like this can certainly cause problems when you think of spending hours on end, twisted to look around at the monitor. A lot of people may be working from laptops so if at all possible you need to make sure you have an external mouse and keyboard and then have the laptop screen propped up on a box or a stack of books so that it is up at eye level. The chair is something to consider as well, a lot of use won’t have an adjustable office chair to be using and may well be using a dining room chair. Dining room chairs will lack lumbar support, which is great at keeping nice posture through your back and neck, so popping a small pillow or even a rolled up towel in the small of your back might be useful to improve your posture when sitting.
The next important part of helping with neck and back discomfort from working from home is Posture Breaks. Keeping moving and not being stuck in the same posture is a very vital strategy to decrease or avoid pain. I would recommend having a posture break every 30 minutes or so for a minute or two. I often find even a shorter posture break of 30 seconds or so can be effective in breaking up that static posture. I will often suggest that patients can break up their sitting with a short walk around the office (aka house!) or even just standing up to answer a phone call. Motion is Lotion is a good metaphor to think of, keep moving and keep pain free during your workday. Breaking up how you are working can be helpful too. If you usually work from a sit-stand desk, see if you can replicate a similar set up at home, again using a box on a bench to place your laptop on, just short periods of time in that standing position will help break up the prolonged, static sitting that you would otherwise be doing.
Keep a look out for the blog post next week where we will be discussing stretches to do when working. You can also email me or click the link on our homepage to access our Postural Exercises Handout which has some great stretches to try when working from home. If you have any questions or are battling with pain due to working from home, reach out and get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org