Maybe you’ve worked from home before this pandemic, or maybe this is new to you. One thing is for sure, many of us have been forced to adapt to a new working style and environment. And odds are, this has presented some challenges for you. While we can’t provide recommendations for remaining as productive while sharing that work space with your kids and spouse, we can provide some ways to make it the best environment possible for your body. And if you still happen to be working in your normal environment you can still apply these tips.
We’ve recently seen an increase in patients that are experiencing discomfort from their new impromptu working conditions, mainly neck and lower back pain. Rest assured, if you find yourself experiencing these symptoms you are not alone and we are here to provide some recommendations to help.
While working from home for you may be temporary, you can still optimize your situation for the time being.
Imagine your spine from the top of your neck all the way down to your tailbone being in a perfectly neutral position. What does this mean? You want everything stacked on top of each other, which will give you the subtle natural curves of the spine. Sometimes this is easier to think about what it isn’t. It isn’t having your head forward from your shoulders. It isn’t having your head looking down (or up) at a screen. It isn’t having your lower back slouched and rounded in your chair. This can happen on a hard kitchen chair or on a soft sofa or recliner. In addition to your spine, pay attention to what your shoulders are doing. They are going to have a tendency to round forward. Ideally when working on a keyboard, what your arms hang down and just bend your elbows at a 90 degree angle. You want the keyboard to be placed where this can happen without having to adjust your shoulders. Adjust your workstation, do not adjust your body. In regard to your monitor, this should be at eye level where you can keep your head back over your shoulders and not be required to look up or down. Even a slight deviation can have detrimental effects over the course of several hours. If you are working from a laptop this is obviously going to be more challenging so you are going to just have to apply the previous tips as best you can. Which brings us to the next tip that will be much more applicable to laptop users.
Mix it up
No matter what, nobody is going to be able to have perfect posture for an extended period of time. This is especially true when you are concentrating on that important project or task. One of the best tools to combat this is having a variety of working positions. You can get creative here. The best scenario is a standing desk with the monitor at eye level and the keyboard and mouse at a level that allows for neutral shoulders and the elbows bent at 90 degrees. You can use a counter or table and will likely need to get creative with using boxes or books to build up your workstation. If you are standing on a hard tile floor, consider using a soft kitchen mat or rug to stand on. You may get tired of standing all day so periodic sitting on a stool or exercise ball are nice ways to break that up. I also like to set my laptop on a surface such as a couch or table that allows me to kneel on one knee. I will switch to the other knee or both knees periodically. You can use a towel, blanket, or pillow under your knees to make a softer surface. This position allows you to keep your spine neutral much easier. If working on a laptop, you can also lay on your belly on the couch or floor.
Two birds, one stone
Many of us admittedly don’t stretch enough. How great is it to stretch while also working? The standing position allows you to stretch your hip flexors if you stagger one foot in front of the other and lean back or to the side with your torso. You can also do this while in the kneeling position. While laying on the floor you can stretch one leg out to the side, having your hip and knee bent at 90 degrees. You can also stretch that leg underneath of you at about 90 degrees. You can place your laptop on the couch and have your body in an oblique sit position. This is a great hip stretch but should not be performed if it causes knee discomfort.
Please let us know if you have any questions or would like a virtual ergonomic assessment with personalized recommendations… we’d be happy to help!
Kyle Boland, DC