Most people are having to choose between beds, sofas, chairs without much support or armrest, smaller workspaces which do not encourage much movement. The bigger culprits are the laptops we use for 8 hours.

New Delhi: The shift in our working environment has definitely helped us maintain social distancing and avoid the daily hassles of travelling. However, this new way of working has led to increase in health concerns such as strains and pains in the lower back and neck due to the lack of an ergonomic work set up and office equipment. Most people are having to choose between beds, sofas, chairs without much support or armrest, smaller workspaces which do not encourage much movement. The bigger culprits are the laptops we use for 8 hours or more a day without a keyboard or a mouse.

The good news is, with some practical changes these potential adverse effects on the body can be controlled to a great extent.  Let us understand the impact of faulty postures due to improper work setups and tips to protect your neck and back if you are working without proper office equipment.

Tips to counter adverse effects of working from home

Switch to a standing desk

Problem areas addressed: Neck, shoulders, low-back, and hips.

Impact:

On average, an adult spends up to 9 hours sitting/day. Sitting for a similar number of hours is associated with almost double the risk of diabetes. The risk of heart diseases also increases by 10-20 per cent.

Solution: 

  • Standing desks help maintain a good posture and one is less likely to slouch. This should be coupled with comfortable shoes. This helps maintain the natural curvatures of your spine, supports hips and knees and in turn prevents or relieves pain all the way up the spine. Never work sitting on your sofa, it encourages you to slump, to round your shoulders and push the head forward – which strains your neck and upper back muscles. 
  • Standing is great for your health, burns additional calories and significantly reduces the risk of back-related problems. 
  • Avoid poor sit-stand ergonomics like leaning, slouching or using a workstation that is too high or too low. This can lead to muscle and joint pains. 

Setting up a posture friendly workstation

Problem areas addressed: Neck, shoulders, headaches and low back.

Impact: 

  • Text neck: Tilting our heads forwards to look at our phones/laptops imposes a significant strain on our neck muscles, almost tripling the load of the head on our neck, and the resulting problem has been coined as ‘text neck’.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome: Characterized by numbness and pain in the wrist and hand. Usually due to lack of mouse/improper non-adjustable chairs coupled with long working hours without breaks. 
  • Coccydynia: Sharp pain in the area just above the buttocks/tailbone area usually in prolonged sitting, moving from sitting to standing. Classically noted in people using sofas/soft beds to work on laptops.  

Solution: 

  • Desk set-up: Get your hand first on a keyboard and mouse followed by desktop and a chair, this will instantly improve your work set-up. If you are working on a regular dining chair – use a cushion on the seat, ensure your feet are touching the floor. If not, use a small stool/box under your feet to avoid straining your legs. 
  • Posture: Use a small pillow/roll for your lower back and rest your elbows time and again on the table/armrest of your chair. Use a headset. If you need to hold your phone to your ear, hold it with your left hand and take notes with your dominant hand. But never use your shoulder to support the phone while talking.
  • Eye-level: Laptops should be at the level of your eyes, use books to position your laptop higher. A height-adjustable chair, with armrest and wide comfortable base that delivers both support and comfort to your lower back and hips.
  • Lighting: Good lighting and avoiding glare is of utmost importance. Poor lighting leads to eye strain and you end up craning your neck which worsens the situation.

Taking regular breaks

  • Get up and get moving: Thanks to the pandemic and restricted gym access, we have become more sedentary than ever! Thereby; putting us at a higher risk of poor lifestyle-related disorders.
  • Move every 30 minutes: Get some fresh air, move your shoulder and neck or run up and down the stairs. Activate and move those muscles and this will prevent any strain you might be developing due to constant posturing.  
  • Take stretch breaks: To loosen up those muscles which you might unconsciously be tensing up. Stretch your neck, back and even leg muscles. 

For most of us with existing neck, back or shoulder issues, exercise should be the first line of treatment. Simple exercises can help prevent long term musculoskeletal problems. If you are experiencing any symptoms like shoulder strain, neck pain, headaches after long hours of working, hip pain or stiffness in your low back, you must consult a physiotherapist. A physiotherapist is an expert clinician who will help you diagnose the root cause of the pain and chart out a treatment plan for it. They are movement specialists who can assess not only joints and muscles but also your work set-up and suggest appropriate changes to help with an efficient ergonomic set-up. A customized therapy plan is then created which best suits your requirement followed by a home program. If you are hesitant to step out for a consultation, opt for at-home physiotherapy treatment to help you with your posture-related ailments.

This article first appeared in Times Now News – https://www.timesnownews.com/health/article/is-work-from-couch-the-new-normal-for-you-here-are-some-tips-to-counter-its-adverse-health-effects/703167