Spinal health and working from home

The ongoing health and economic crisis related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the required physical distancing measures made many firms to introduce ‘working from home’. If you are one of these people working, you may be noticing new aches and pains that you did not experience while you were working at the office. That is because even though it is not mandated, many companies follow ergonomic recommendations in the design of their computer workstations, furnishing the office with the ergonomic furniture and accessories. Most residential settings, however, simply don’t have the space to accommodate today’s ergonomic office furniture, nor do most people invest in it, especially if they do the bulk of their work in the office. If you are working from your home, it is likely that you are either using your computer on a regular table or a kitchen countertop, dining room table or you are in a lounge chair or on your bed.

How can working from home affect the spine? 

While working from home, we tend to throw all sense of workplace decorum out the window, and so, it becomes hard to sit up straight and easy to slouch. The problem is, when you sit on a sofa, a couch or even your bed, you tend not to maintain a correct posture. You end up rounding your shoulders, putting your head forward and slouching. As a result, you put too much strain on the tissues of your body which may result in chronic pain in your neck and back. While at first you may get slightly annoyed with the mild body ache, it could soon manifest into a severe problem for your whole body.

All our skeletal muscles are involved with posture, but the most important ones are the core stabilizing muscles around your abdomen, pelvis and back. When those muscles are fit and strong, then a good posture is much easier to maintain. Unfortunately, when we slouch and maintain improper posture over time, which is a common incidence with working from home, we weaken our core muscles, and cause disproportion in weight distribution through the back and down through our legs.

To achieve a neutral spine, your head, shoulders, and hips should all be in line vertically when viewed from the side. Your spine should have three natural curves: a slight inward curvature of the neck, the upper back curved gently out, and the lower back curved gently in.

How to adjust your workstation at home 

Creating a workspace that is unique for your body and your work type is essential to having a healthy spine. Arrange your tools in such a way so your body forms right angles when seated, your back is perpendicular to your thighs but parallel to your shins. Ensure you lift your head up and do not lean forward into your screen. It’s super important to take care of your body, and good posture plays a big role in doing that. As you work from home, take the following into consideration:

Get a keyboard and a mouse: The worst posture issues will come from hunching over a laptop. Getting a keyboard and a mouse is the most important investment that people can do to immediately improve their work environment.

Make your own laptop stand: If you are working on a kitchen or dining room table, one of the most important things you can do is elevate your laptop so that the top of the monitor is at eye level. If you don’t have a keyboard and a mouse to rely on and still need to type, try angling a lever-arch file or a chopping board on top of a book to use as a ramp for your laptop.

Move around every half an hour: It is more important than ever for you to move your body every half an hour. Stretch your arms towards the sky and to the sides. Take a walk around at intervals, and run up and downstairs if you have them. Also, try lying with your back flat on the ground and your legs at a 90-degree angle to stretch the back muscles.

Do not work on your sofa: Your sofa is the worst place for you to work for a prolonged period. Not only will your posture immediately worsen, but the perception of comfort can also stop you from moving around as much. When you work from a sofa, set a timer so that you remind yourself to get up and walk around regularly.

Ensure you exercise regularly: Exercise has numerous physical health benefits. It helps to strengthen our muscles and protect the back. It is essential to have a workout routine including core muscle strengthening exercises. This is important to our physical as well as mental health.

Ordinary activities such as the way you sit or the way you lift something can cause back pain if not careful. Working for extended periods at your kitchen counter or sitting at your dining table with the wrong chair is not great for your body and overall health. The best way to reduce or even avoid back or neck pain is to make a few changes to your workstation. Do you have a specific concern about your workstation or even your spine? PCA has specialized Physiotherapists and Occupational therapists to guide you appropriately and make recommendations that are best for your spinal health.

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