August 19, 2020

Neck, Shoulder and Back Pain: How to Protect Your Neck, Shoulder and Back While Working from Home

Many countries went into lockdown early this year, meaning that some of us have been working from home for several months. Have you found it hard to set up a comfortable workspace during the coronavirus lockdown? Or are you missing your standing desk or office chair whilst working from home?

In this article:
First things first
Supporting your body
DIY yourself a standing desk
Avoid the couch
Things to remember

This article discusses tips to protect yourself while working from home. Your workspace can cause your muscles considerable pain if not set up properly, so this article explains how best to avoid unnecessary neck, shoulder or back pain.

First things first

First things first, however, as the most important thing for you to bear in mind is that comfort is key. Working from home takes some adjustment. Some parts of the necessary adjustment are enjoyable; while other parts like aches and pain from a poorly set-up workspace are not. As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure, which is why setting your workspace up properly is important.

First, your sitting position must be right. Do ensure you’re comfortable at your desk and that your body is in a neutral position. Your feet should be firm on the floor and your lower back supported. Sit back in your chair and use the backrest. Your shoulders should be relaxed, with your arms by your side and not reaching forwards. Where possible, raise your work screen up to eye level to prevent slouching and upper back pain. This will help to reduce the likelihood of injury, such as neck pain and headaches, lower back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

Taking notes at a coffee table while working from home
Taking notes at a coffee table while working from home

Supporting your body

To ensure maximum comfort, you should try to adapt your environment as much as possible to support your body's more natural and relaxed position. This means, as referred to earlier, the top of the computer screen needs to be level with your eyes - if possible; the screen should be adjustable to a comfortable position. The keyboard should be in front of you with enough room for your wrists to rest when you're not using it and you should be able to use the mouse without reaching for it.

When setting up a desk to ensure it isn't causing pain or damage to your muscles, establish whether there is adequate work surface to allow a flexible arrangement for the screen, keyboard and mouse operation. Also, make sure there is adequate knee room to maintain a comfortable position.

Some people may consider using a gym ball instead of a chair as this can be used to improve core stability muscles and posture. This can be used to good effect as long as the ball height is correct and allows the upper legs to be at a right angle to the floor.

A chair that properly supports your lower back is highly recommended, which may mean investing in a new office chair.

DIY yourself a standing desk

If you're someone who has a standing desk at work, you're probably struggling to adjust to the constant sitting while working from home.

Standing desks are an excellent way to help maintain good posture as we're less likely to slouch at them like we would if we were sitting.

You can make a standing desk in your own home simply by using books or other objects to lift the height of your screen.

To utilise a DIY standing desk, the above-discussed protocols should be considered with a gradual introduction until it becomes more manageable. Think about the height of your screen and accessibility of the mouse, for example, as your muscles will take time to adjust to unfamiliar posture changes.

Space, accessibility and comfort are paramount in these new environments. Taking regular breaks and moving about are very important too, as are stretching sore and tired muscles.

There are common muscles that are affected, such as the rhomboid and trapezius muscles as well as the hamstrings and quadratus lumborum. Online yoga and Pilates sessions are easily accessible, and a daily regimen of whole-body stretching can be very effective at alleviating the additional loads and stressors that come with working in makeshift spaces.

Adequate light and access to fresh air are also shown to be highly beneficial.

Avoid the couch

It's very tempting to sit in your pyjamas on the sofa while you work - after all, who is going to know? But it's very important that you work in a space that's set up to put you in the best position to work, and the sofa just isn't up to the task.

Getting up, dressed and prepared for the day is highly recommended to maintain your normal routine as much as possible.

Stay away from couches and bed areas to ensure you can disconnect your home life from working life.

If you're able to, you should be in an upstairs setting. So when you do have to leave the workspace for food and water or even just to answer the door (social distancing taken into account), you have a set of stairs to negotiate, helping with blood flow to those muscles that have been sitting idle.

Try to keep distractions to a minimum. However, having the TV or radio on for some staves off feelings of loneliness, especially if you're used to a bustling office environment.

Things to remember

The advice we started with is the same advice we are ending with. It is important to remember that the aim is to ensure you’re always comfortable and that your body is in a neutral position.

I cannot stress enough that your feet should be firm on the floor and your lower back should be supported. Sit back in the chair, use the backrest. Your shoulders should be relaxed, with your arms by your side and not reaching forwards. Where possible raise your screen up to eye level to prevent slouching and upper back pain. And MOVE regularly throughout the day!

By so doing all the foregoing, you will surely avoid unnecessary strain and pain to your neck, shoulders and back as you work from home.

Image: Unsplash

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