Make Working From Home Work For You

Working virtually has become the norm for the majority of us since the COVID-19 pandemic started, making us spend countless hours seated at our home desks and blurring the distinction between the start and end of the working day. This big adjustment in lifestyle presents an increased prevalence in postural and mechanical issues, with the most common complaints being neck and lower back pain.

What’s Causing Your Neck and Lower Back Pain?

Holding a position for an extended period of time exponentially increases the stress on your muscles, ligaments and spinal discs. Your muscles have to work harder to hold your posture, ligaments have to provide your joints with stability, and your discs have to serve as support for your spine.

This stress progressively builds over hours, days and months, with certain sitting postures amplifying the load on these tissues.

As adaptable as your body can be, holding a static position long enough leads to muscular fatigue, disc irritation or ligament strains. Furthermore, the lack of movement impedes the circulatory blood flow required for tissue recovery and removal of metabolic waste.

As an example, imagine holding a squat for some time. There is no doubt that it will become growingly uncomfortable even though there was nothing wrong with your back, hips or legs to begin with. However, doing this excessively may eventually lead to pain and worsening symptoms.

What Can You Do to Make It Better?

While the goal is to work on improving your capacity to hold an optimal balance in your sitting posture, striking a balance between different positions throughout the day would be an immediate and effective strategy for now. As a general guideline on desk-bound ergonomics, try these few tips for a start:

Optimise Your Workstation

  • Position your computer screen around 1 arms-length away and slightly above eye level
  • Invest in a monitor if you are using a laptop
  • Increase or decrease the height of your chair
  • Ensure you have sufficient lighting

Check Your Posture

  • Sit with your buttocks against the back of your seat
  • If necessary, use a small towel or pillow to facilitate the natural curve of your spine
  • Place your elbows at ~90 degrees (forearms should be approximately horizontal with the desk and rested on it)
  • Relax your shoulders by keeping the keyboard and mouse close to avoid holding an outstretched reach
  • Adopt ~90 degrees at your hips, knees and ankles

Set Yourself Up For Longterm Success

  • Take short and frequent breaks by standing or walking
  • Start getting active again

Try These At-Home Exercises

Take it a step further by habitually trying out these 3 movements while seated.

1. Pelvic Rocking

Using a bucket of water analogy, imagine spilling water forwards and backwards via the rotation of your pelvis. Keep all else still whilst doing so. This encourages the even redistribution of stress on your back.

2. Neck Retraction

While looking forwards, bring your ears directly back until they are in line with your shoulders

3. McKenzie Extension

Lying on your tummy, prop yourself up with your hands, while keeping your hips in contact with the floor.

Implementing these strategies would mitigate the cumulative stresses of your day-day WFH routine. Reach out to us for an appointment and we can explore options on how we could further improve your situation. Alternatively, speak with your physiotherapist for an ergonomic analysis of your home workstation via Telehealth for a remote troubleshoot.

What To Expect At In Touch Physiotherapy

  • Individualised assessment and exercises prescribed specific to you, to address any physical deficits and improve postural control
  • Advice and education on ergonomic care / modifications
  • Establishing and resolving pre-existing musculoskeletal problems contributing to current pain
  • Hands-on manual therapy including joint and soft tissue mobilisation for pain relief and/or limiting mobility
  • Recommendations on improving your work environment

Written By: Benjamin Tan, B.Sc. (Hons) Physio (AUS), Dip. Sports and Exercise Sc. (SG)

Ben is a Senior Physiotherapist with expertise across the entire range of musculoskeletal conditions. With prior extensive experience in pain management & post-operative rehabilitation, he is fluent in the use of electrical modalities, manual therapy, and dry needling in resolving patients’ pains & aches. 

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