Many of us have not worked at home for extended periods of time but in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, this may be our new normal for the foreseeable future
Currently, a significant percentage of the workforce is operating in makeshift conditions at home. We find ourselves slouched for hours at the dining table, on the couch, in a bean bag chair, or working on a laptop, frequently without taking breaks. We know that substandard workstations do not promote healthy posture. The problem occurs when you sit for hours in sustained postures that put undue stress on muscles and ligaments. Common outcomes are neck and lower back pain, headaches, and even repetitive strain injury.
In addition to sustaining postures for lengthy periods, we also distort the natural curves of the spine – especially when slumping forward. This places excess pressure and overload on the vertebrae discs – particularly in the neck and lower back regions. As a result, we experience stiffness and pain in these areas of the spine. It is common to encounter referred pain, as well. Lumbar disc strain may trigger debilitating leg pain; neck disc overload resulting from a ’poked neck position’ while working on a computer may initiate headaches.
The secret to avoiding back pain is to adopt different postures frequently. When you are sitting for periods of time, assume positions that are less likely to cause damage to the spine.
Given the number of hours we spend at the computer in the workplace — whether at the office or the ‘new’ home space – it is worthwhile to examine our workstation setup. Our workstations should be accommodating to our body, not vice versa. Often a few minor ergonomic adjustments can significantly ease the strain on our body and reduce our chance of aches and pains.
Tips that make a big difference and help prevent back pain
- Use a back rest to that extends to shoulder height supporting the length of the spine at approximately 10-20 degree reclined from vertical
- Adjust the monitor. The top of the computer monitor should be at eye level and approximately an arm’s length distance away
- When sitting, keep your knees at right angles or slightly lower than your thigh
- Ensure your feet are well supported. Footrests are an option when the desk is too tall and is not adjustable. If you don’t have one of these at home, it is possible to improvise with a box or an aerobic stepper
- When sitting, ensure there is a small gap of approximately 2 finger widths between the back of the knee and front of the seat base
- Keep the computer mouse within close reach so you do not need to extend your arm
- Keep your forearms horizontal and shoulders relaxed
- If you are using a laptop, invest in a wireless keyboard and mouse. Elevate the laptop monitor using a box or stack of books so that the top of the monitor is at eye level. Alternatively, you can use a laptop kickstand or connect it to a standalone large screen monitor
Other things to consider
- It is important to take regular breaks from working at a computer. Stand up, walk around and stretch at least 2 minutes every half hour, at a minimum. You could also try out Simpli Move Health Challenge 6 that encourages you to perform a few achievable exercises for less than 60 seconds every hour.
- Standing workstations are beneficial because they encourage different postures and more movement. If possible, vary between standing and sitting regularly (30 mins sitting /30 minutes standing)
- And lastly – the best posture is the next posture – meaning, move and change your position regularly.