The pandemic has caused a lot of changes in our lives. Aside from wearing masks on a regular basis, a common change is that many individuals have been working from home. While working from home can be less stressful, as you don’t have to deal with traffic/commuting, it can also create ergonomic challenges. Since we re-opened following the lockdown, many clients have come into the clinic complaining about back and neck pain. A common characteristic with many clients is that they have all switched from working in an office to working from home.
A big challenge in working from home, is not having your comfortable desk and/or chair available to use. Many individuals do not have the space in their homes for an office/desk space. Instead, you have had to settle for doing the bulk of your work with a laptop on the kitchen/dining room table. You have likely experienced increased neck or back discomfort/tightness since you have been working from home. The change in your ergonomic set up at home, compared to your set up at work, is likely a large contributing factor toward this. Additionally, because you are working from home, you are not moving as much, simply because you are no longer commuting to work!
Below are some key strategies/interventions that can help you deal with this nagging postural neck/back pain that has been brought on from your ergonomic set up at home:
For your levator scapula, upper trapezius, scalene and sternocleidomastoid (SCM) musculature can help to deal with upper back/neck tightness. Always ensure that you are only stretching within pain free motion!
(Images retrieved from: http://www.physiowarzish.in/levator-scapulae-stretch.html &
Ensure that you have a proper set up with your work station. Even if you are working on a kitchen table there are ways to help improve your ergonomic set up. If working on a laptop, consider purchasing a Bluetooth keyboard. With a Bluetooth keyboard you are able to place the laptop on a few books, to ensure that the middle of the computer screen is at your eye level. Next, ensure that your keyboard is situated such that your elbows are bent to 90 degrees with your wrists in a neutral position and your shoulders relaxed. Always ensure that your feet are in contact with the ground (you may need a stool or books underneath your feet). Furthermore, make sure that your back is in contact with the backrest of your chair. These postural changes can help to reduce unwanted stress/stiffness on your upper back/neck muscles.
(Image retrieved from: https://www.computerhope.com/jargon/p/posture.htm)
Go for walks on your lunch break, even just walking about 15-20 minutes in intervals throughout the work day is great way to stay active.
Below are some great exercises to help loosen those tight muscles, and even better all these exercises can be done at your workspace! As with stretching, ensure that these exercises are completed within pain free motion.
Brugger’s with or without theraband (elastic)
Thoracic spine extension with ball, rolled up towel or foam roller placed behind your mid back in sitting
Seated thoracic rotation
Consider standing while you are reading/working. A standing desk or a standing shelf to hold your laptop/keyboard are always great options if you are able to afford it. If you are unable to afford a standing desk or shelf, even placing your laptop on your kitchen countertop (with some books underneath your laptop), can help to prevent stiffness/discomfort in your neck and back. An ideal goal would be to sit/stand for 4 hours each periodically spread out throughout an 8-hour work day. A good idea would be to set timers for once every 45 minutes to help cue/remind you to take standing/stretch breaks.
While the above suggestions are helpful for most individuals, it is best to consult/visit a Physiotherapist to help develop an individualized treatment plan that is best suited to help best facilitate your recovery. If you are suffering from postural back or neck pain, book now with one of our Physiotherapists to help create an individualized treatment plan to help you get rid of your pain.
Daniel Folino graduated with his Master’s of Physical Therapy from the University of British Columbia. Prior to completing his Master’s degree, he graduated with a Bachelor of Kinesiology at the University of British Columbia. He is a member of the Physiotherapy Association of B.C. and the Canadian Physiotherapy Association. Book with Dan today.