We have all had to make changes to our everyday routine during the pandemic, and for the first time a lot of us have had to start working from home, myself included. Setting up a comfortable workspace is super important, not only to be productive, but to also stay healthy. We talked to Opal Riddle, Clinical Manager, The Christ Hospital Physical & Occupational Therapy Centers, for some tips on setting up the perfect workspace and taking care of your back and posture while working from home.Opal:
What are some of the health issues that can develop related to working at home?
Chances are, we are sitting more at home than we do in the office. Research shows that we can reduce our chances of cancer, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and back pain simply by reducing the amount of time we spend sitting. Dr. Joan Vernikos, former director of NASA's Life Sciences Division, and author of “Sitting Kills, Moving Heals”, says that we weren't designed to sit because “the body is a perpetual motion machine”.
When we sit, especially in a slouched position, the discal pressure in our lower backs can increase up to 280%, which can lead to back pain and muscle imbalances. Also, a forward head posture can change the weight of your head from an average of 8-11 pounds to a 20-pound bowling ball. Over time, this can create muscle fatigue and strain leading to burning, muscle aches and decreased mobility in your neck.
What are some tips for setting up a home workspace that’s good for your posture and back?Opal:
Now that we have established that prolonged sitting can be unhealthy, I recommend beginning to transition to a standing desk. Inexpensive options can be found online, or you can convert a counter or table in your home into a temporary standing desk by stacking books to raise your monitor to eye level.
Additionally, placing your foot on a step stool can aid in improving posture and reducing stress in the lower back.
For those who prefer to sit, inexpensive pillows or cushions can be used to support your back and encourage proper postural alignment to reduce muscle fatigue and postural strain. These items can also be easily constructed from items you have around your home. For example, place a water bottle between the shoulder blades or a firmly rolled up towel in the small of your back.
I've seen pictures of people working on their computer from their bed or couch; how does this impact their posture? Could that cause issues? Opal:
Let’s just say a resounding YES. Working from your bed perpetuates slouching. Headaches (tension) and neck/shoulder pain can be related to improper alignment of your structures. The ideal sitting posture includes:
- Ears should be aligned with shoulders and shoulders should be aligned with hips
- Shoulders relaxed and elbows close to the sides of the body
- The angle of your elbows, hips and knees should be approximately 90 degrees
- Feet flat on the floor
- Forearms parallel to the floor with wrists straight
Another idea for individuals suffering from neck pain: stressless chairs for head support and using your television as your monitor.
How long should you work before making sure you take a break?Opal:
I suggest setting a timer on your phone or in your kitchen to help with frequently alternating between sitting and standing. The more you do it; the more benefit you receive! Alternating every 20 -40 min. is better than sitting two to three hours straight and then standing for several hours.
What are some good exercises to help improve your strength and posture?Opal:
When standing, you can do ankle raises, heel/toe rocking, mini squats, mid rows, chin tucks, wall angels and hamstring/calf and pec stretches.
So the bottom line is: get up and move! Too much sitting and not taking breaks is not a good idea and not good for your posture. Also some people find that they work longer hours in front of the computer because it is right there at their disposal. Take breaks and keep moving!
Need help relieving pain, restoring mobility, increasing strength or improving function? The Christ Hospital Physical & Occupational Therapy Centers team can help! Schedule an appointment online today at a location near you.