Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of our patients are finding themselves working from home. With this recent change, there has been an increase in calls from patients experiencing a return of or new nagging upper back/neck pain by the end of the day. Unfortunately for those telecommuting it does not look like getting back to the office is happening soon.
Adapting to New Work Settings
Though it may be obvious to most people, the change from the work setting to your home office can be problematic for many reasons. Most employers supply workers with equipment to achieve neutral mechanics. If you are someone who has a great workstation set up at your office and now officing out of your dining room table, the lack of the ergonomic resources could result in a change of how you are loading the upper back and neck. Think of your typical workday at the office. How long do you actually sit at your desk? Are you walking in and out of meetings frequently? In the age of Zoom and Webex there is no change of scenery. I recently had a patient tell me that he spent nearly six hours on Zoom due to back to back calls.
So if you are someone who finds themselves struggling with upper back or neck pain what can you do? Is there something wrong with you? Nope, not at all. More than likely your soft tissues (muscles, joints, ligaments) are having to tolerate a greater load than normal during your traditional work day at the office.
5 Tips for Preventing WFH Back Pain
What can you do to combat these recent developments?
- Set a Timer. this is the easiest and most effective way to avoid getting sore by the end of the day. It is recommended to change positions every 45 minutes. Research has shown the reason people have pain at their desk is not likely due to poor posture, but rather prolonged posture. Setting a timer will prevent you from getting chained into a project and before you know it, it’s been 2-4 hours.
- Create a Standing Workstation (if possible). Get creative. Stack a few boxes on top of your table or desk. You don’t need to break the bank!
- Don’t be Afraid to Change How and Where you Work! Find ways to break up sitting and standing and your workday. While sitting on the couch for 8 hours a day is not ideal, it might be a great location to check emails for 20-30 minutes. Can you listen to a conference call lying on your back with your feet elevated? Or can you go for a walk or do some below exercises during a conference call?
- Try to Create a Better Ergonomic Setup. Making simple changes to your work station can improve tolerance to prolonged positions for a period of time. Here’s some helpful tips.
- Top of the monitor at eye height or slightly lower.
- Dual screens or a monitor and laptop should be at the same height.
- Monitor should be no further than your outstretched arm.
- Achieve a 90 degree (or slight lower) angle of the arm and forearm.
- Consider using an external keyboard when using a laptop that is elevated to parallel a monitor.
- Placed at the same height or slight lower than the keyboard and directly next to it.
- Try a vertical mouse if you have elbow or wrist issues.
- Try to achieve an angle between 90-100° degrees of your trunk and thighs. You may have to raise your seat height if you are tall or put a box under your feet if you are short.
- Use a small pillow or rolled up towel in the small of the back.
- Try it vertically or horizontally and see if one direction feels better than the other.
- Avoid cradling your phone between your shoulder and ear while keying/mousing.
- Utilize a headset or speakerphone.
- Posture check
- Have your new coworkers (ie your children or partner) take a picture of you to see what you look like. Are you able to achieve more neutral positions?
- Consider Performing Postural Exercises Throughout the Day. These exercises will help increase blood flow, mobilize the joints and muscles, and alleviate soreness:
Thoracic Extension over Chair or Towel / Foam Roller
- Sit down on a chair.
- Put a half foam roller or rolled up towel across your mid-back.
- Place your hands behind your head.
- Extend the thoracic spine over the half-roller/towel while pushing the elbows back to open the chest and mobilize the thoracic spine.
- Come back to the starting position and repeat the exercise.
- Perform 5-6 times.
- Readjust the position of the foam roller/towel and repeat at multiple locations.
- Standing with your back resting on a wall.
- Engage your lower core muscles to keep the trunk and low back in neutral and touching the wall.
- Nod your chin slightly and maintain that position throughout the exercise.
- Slowly and under control, slide both arms out sideways up toward your head, then back down again, making sure that the neck, trunk, rib cage and low back remain in contact with the wall .
- This can be performed with the arms straight or bent like a “goal post’’ motion.
- Do 10-15 slides with your arms.
Work these into your day in between Zoom calls and emails!