Working from Home and Back Pain
By Dr. Tim Fargo
Even before COVID-19, the work patterns of Americans were already shifting toward the ability to work from home. Doing so provides the worker with greater flexibility and, in many cases, creates a cost-saving for the employer. What was still relatively uncommon before COVID is now exceedingly common in the wake of the pandemic. More and more workers are either asking or are being told, to work from home. It would seem that that trend will continue into the foreseeable future, and a fair number of employers will probably never go back to the old operating basis.
As I said, there are certain advantages to working from home, but there are also disadvantages. Of course, many workers feel isolated without the ability to commune with their coworkers and there are also significant challenges associated with activities that require more active collaboration. One of the most significant downsides of this arrangement is that workers are relying on more temporary and makeshift work set-ups. I have seen photographs of my patients working for hours on their laptops on the living room couch. While such an arrangement might seem cushy and comfortable, sitting that way for prolonged periods causes significant spinal issues, in both the low back and neck. To the extent that it is possible for you to do so, I would recommend that you view your homework set-up in the same way that you would your office set-up. Here are some tips to help with back pain & neck pain:
- Do not simply sit on the couch, an easy chair, or the kitchen counter to do your work. None of those circumstances will provide you with the opportunity to sit in a way that will preserve any semblance of decent posture.
- Even if you have to get a folding table or some other temporary facsimile of a desk, do so and, while you’re at it, get a decent chair to sit in as well. It would be even better if you could actually get a desk and put it someplace where you can do your work with fewer disruptions.
- Let your family know when you are working and when it is important for them to respect your space and your need for concentration. You are working for them and they need to also respect and work to help you discharge your responsibilities.
- Just as you would in the office, set your workstation up to provide you with the needed support for good posture. Doing so will save energy, reduce fatigue, and prevent work-related stress injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic neck pain, shoulder pain, and low back pain.
- Your chair should provide adequate support for your low back and should help you maintain its curvature. Your legs should not be dangling; your feet should be flat on the floor with your knees and hips both at 90°. For some of you who are a little shorter of stature, you will need to have a footrest so that the chair can be kept high enough to put you in proper position relative to the desktop. A foot-rest could be something as simple as a cardboard box or a phone book.
- If you are using a laptop, which many homebound workers are doing, consider getting a remote keyboard and mouse. Doing so will allow you to raise the laptop up so that you are not having to look down all day long while you are working. Ideally, if you have an actual desk, you could also mount a keyboard tray underneath the desktop to allow your shoulders, arms, wrists and hands to relax. As a side note, when you are sitting with good posture your chin should be at approximately the middle of the monitor (vertically).
- If you wear glasses, particularly bifocals as I do, you may want to consider getting a pair or two of inexpensive mono-focal readers that you keep on your computer. Those of us who wear bifocals often find ourselves extending our heads back in order to view our computer screens through the lower part of the lens. Doing so is very hard on your neck. Also consider, if you are getting “readers” or glasses just for the computer, getting “blue blockers”. “Blue blockers”, as the name implies, block the blue light that emanates from your computer screen and, in doing so, will make you more comfortable and possibly even less irritable.
- Make sure that you have proper lighting to prevent eyestrain and improve your level of alertness.
- If you have the ability to do so, just as you would in your office, get a standup desk that allows you to change posture throughout the day, alternating between standing and sitting.
- Speaking of changing positions, set a timer that forces you to stand and stretch a little bit at a set frequency; it could be once every hour to two hours.
- If you have kids at home and, like me, are easily distracted by extraneous noise, then consider getting noise-canceling headphones.
For many of us, these changes may be more or less permanent. Many workers are now, and will into the foreseeable future be working either wholly or partially from home. Given the length of time that most of us spend sitting at our desks, it is critical to make sure that we do so with the least amount of stress and strain. Anyone of the tips above could make a difference for you. My hope, of course, is that all of these restrictions become unnecessary in the very near future, but, if they do not, then it is best to be prepared for the long haul.
Dr. Fargo is an Edina Chiropractor and has done so for the past 38 years. He is the clinic director of Chiropractic Health and Wellness and the founder of ScoliTech™, a company devoted to the care of patients with Scoliosis Treatment and other spinal disorders. He enjoys caring for people of all ages but specializes in the treatment of scoliosis and postural imbalances. In addition, he has had extensive experience in treating hundreds of elite and professional athletes, including 15 years spent as the chiropractor for the Minnesota Vikings. He is a passionate educator who actively mentors chiropractic students and has delivered literally hundreds of lectures to the community on various wellness-related topics.
To learn more visit: chirohealthwellness.com