It has been quite a year, hasn’t it? You may be one of the millions of Americans who have found themselves working from home. Before the pandemic hit, 20% of our workforce worked from their homes, but that number has increased to 71%. Clearly, many people enjoy not having to commute or smell fish from their coworkers’ microwaved leftovers, because 54% of those people would like to continue to work from home even when the pandemic is over.
If you are one of those who are working from home, you may have noticed some stiffness or soreness in your neck, shoulders, or back after your hours on the laptop.
Hey, why not? You’re in your pajamas anyway, right? Actually, this is not a good idea. Slouching can cause you to overwork the muscles in your neck and back. If you are constantly looking down at your screen, it can cause “tech neck” (or — if you are on your phone — “text neck”).”
If you are looking straight ahead, your head weighs only ten pounds but its weight nearly doubles for every extra inch you tilt it forward. According to a study by the NIH (National Institutes of Health), increased stresses on the cervical spine can lead to cervical degeneration along with other developmental, medical, psychological, and social complications.
Watch your posture! It is worth investing in an ergonomic chair (one that is designed for efficiency and comfort in the working environment). The ideal chair should provide lumbar support and should be deep enough from front to back that you can touch the back of the chair while leaving 2-3 inches between the back of your knees and the seat. The height and armrests should be adjustable, and the chair should swivel.
When you worked away from home, an office manager was probably responsible for buying desks, computers, and chairs. More than likely, the measurements and proportions were planned intentionally. Workplace ergonomics protects the health of the workers (and increases the company’s bottom line, since healthy workers without pain are more efficient). If you never intended to work from home until this year, and thought last March that the situation was only going to last for a couple of weeks, you may still be writing those quarterly reports or slogging through those zoom calls at the dining room table, or at your sixth grader’s desk.
Reconfigure your workplace. Make sure that your monitor is directly in front of you, about an arm’s length away. You should not have to look up to see the screen. Adjust the desk’s height so that you look straight across or slightly down. When you type, your wrists should be straight, and your upper arms should be close to your body. Your hands should be at or slightly below the level of your elbows.
You may even wish to invest in a standing desk. In an NIH study, participants reported that the use of a standing desk reduced upper back and neck pain by 54%.
At work, you could visit the water cooler or drop in on your coworker in the next office or cubicle, but at home, there is no real impetus to get up. It’s easy to get mired in long uninterrupted hours of concentration.
Do it anyway! You should take stretch breaks throughout the day– every 20-25 minutes or so. As an athlete, you know how important it is to stretch before and after a workout. Taking stretch breaks can increase blood flow to your muscles, which reduces muscle soreness. It can also prevent your neck, shoulders, and upper back from tightening up.
If your office and your home are in the same place, how do you find the line of demarcation? In the old days, you may have decompressed on your drive from work. Nobody really loved sitting in traffic or on the metro to get home, but that traveling time did at least provide a chance to distance yourself from the office. When you are stressed, your breathing patterns change and cause strain and tension in your back. Stress can also cause your shoulders to hunch up and cause pain.
Find a way to turn your work brain off when the workday is finished. If you used to rock out to oldies on the radio in your car, try making the switch by playing music at home. Maybe a stroll around the block while you listen to a podcast will clear your mind before dinner. Keep your shoulders down and breathe deeply — don’t hold onto that stress!
Maybe you are inspired to use the time you would have spent commuting to become active in a sport. If you are an athlete training to compete, recovering from an injury, or looking to get into cross-fit, the best way to prevent injury is to work with a physical therapist who can help you train safely and effectively.
Before choosing a physical therapist, understand where their specialties lie. True Sports Physical Therapy specializes in catering to the elite athlete but holds elite levels of experience and education in treating shoulder, hip, knee, neck, and back pain – both before and after surgery. Call (410) 431-2153