Throughout the Covid-19 “stay-at-home” era, we have continued to see many patients who have developed back and neck problems because of working at home. What have been some of the major contributors to these issues? Not having a properly set up a work area at home, leading to poor posture for extended periods. Extra pounds as we fall into poor eating cycles. A lack of exercise as gyms remain closed or restricted, and we haven’t made an effort to find alternatives.
Even as many organizations begin to welcome employees back to a formal office, the concept of working at home has taken hold. We are likely to see it continue long after Covid-19 restrictions are fully lifted. For many of us, working from home either full-time or part-time will likely become a norm.
Here are 4 recommendations from us to overcome the challenges of remote working.
1. Setup Your Home Office Working Location for Optimal Posture and Comfort
Sitting on that comfy chair or couch is a bad place to start. They offer little back support, leaving your shoulders rounded forward. Worse yet, if you have your legs extended on an ottoman as you sit, it can put stress on your back.
Start by having a dedicated space that you use as your regular work area, even if that means a corner of the kitchen table. This will not only help you get it set up properly but will also help you get mentally focused for work.
Use a real chair to sit. According to the CDC, the ideal chair for office work has armrests and a seat height that will allow your feet to rest flat on the floor. An adjustable backrest and armrests can help ensure an ergonomic sitting position.
When sitting, your hips and knees should be at or slightly above a 90-degree angle. Better yet is a chair that supports the curvature of your lower back. Some may consider the benefits of a standing desk.
Don’t get into the habit of placing your computer screen where you have to look down onto it for long periods. An individual’s head, which typically weighs about 12 pounds, can put a strain on the neck equal to 60 pounds when angled down to look. And thus, neck pain inevitably follows. Your computer screen should be placed an arm’s length away, with the top of the screen at or below your eye level.
2. Establish a Routine
If possible, plan to start work at the same time every day. Structuring your day will help you stay focused on the tasks at hand and set boundaries with others to let them know you’re “at work.” And establish a routine where you end your workday by switching off a light or opening the door to the room you are working in.
The CDC recommends that by following an established work routine from home, it may help reduce feelings of stress. And make sure at the end of the day that you allow for enough time for a consistent sleep schedule to recharge for the next day.
3. Get Up and Move
How bad is not exercising? A 2018 Journal of the American Medical Association Open Study found that poor aerobic fitness can give you a much bigger chance of premature death than smoking, hypertension, or diabetes. So, sitting for too long can kill you.
Stopping your work every hour to take even a 10-minute break can make a significant difference. Stretch, walk around, and move – or even get in some light exercise during your break. Pace around your home when taking a phone call. Do a few pushups. It will make a difference for you.
When you aren’t working, schedule regular exercise. Exercise has both physical and psychological benefits. From a brisk walk around your area, a weekend bike ride, a hike with the family, or working out with friends – invest in your own well-being.
4. Eat a Healthy Diet and Keep Hydrated
A full refrigerator and pantry can be a major problem when you are working from home. When you are alone with no distractions you may find that you may be more aware of hunger than you would be at your workplace.
Avoid unhealthy eating habits by planning out your snacks and meals ahead of time. Purchase items that emphasize nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recommends meals that include eggs, beans, nuts, fish, poultry, and lean meat while limiting foods high in sugar, salt, and saturated fat. When you do snack, try to do it with healthy snacks.
Drinking enough fluids is critical to preventing dehydration, which can lead to constipation and mood swings. While water is the best option, coffee and tea are acceptable. Avoid sugary beverages as much as possible.
Summing It Up
Many of us at Main Line Spine are often also guilty of not following the good habits that we’ve outlined above for working at home. We get that it’s hard to change comfortable routines. But the payoff in striving to follow any of our recommendations will be an improvement in the quality of your life. It may take some time to get used to this new normal, but if you allow yourself to adjust, you’ll find yourself happier in this new work environment for us all.