Working from home is a new world for most of us. So if COVID-19 has you thrown headfirst into a working from home situation, Scott Gentle, Physiotherapist from Butel Health Services in Hornsby, has some advice about working while slumped over a kitchen table with your laptop lumped on a stack of random books.
Who would’ve thought just a few short months could result in the profound shift we’ve seen in the global workforce. This tiny virus has grasped the future and wrenched it into the here and now. And while there are many wonderful benefits, the sudden transition has caused a range of very human problems.
So if you are experiencing work from home back pain, neck soreness, headaches, shoulder pain or wrist pain, you’re not alone. And I’m so glad you’re here!
In this article, I dive into the potential benefits of WFM (it’s not all doom and gloom), some of the hiccups that come with a work from home set-up (and how to fix these), and easy, actionable work from home tips so you can physically and psychologically flourish in these interesting times.
The Working from Home shift
Working from home, or because us Aussies love a good nickname “WFH”, used to be a rarity. Only a few select companies offered it as an option. But since COVID-19 struck there has been a massive change. A Roy Morgan survey revealed that 4.3 million people, that’s almost one in three Australians, now call their home their office. If you’re in the communications, public administration and defence or the finance and insurance industries, that jumps to around a one in two chance.
While the idea of sleep-ins, redundant commutes and leisurely picking the kids up from school may sound like bliss, the sudden nature has resulted in poor planning and less than ideal conditions. Pain and anxiety have spiked. Yes, COVID-19 has been the backbone (pun intended) of this WFH trend but it doesn’t look like there will be a reversal to our pre-COVID days any time soon.
Top 5 Working from Home related injuries
As a physiotherapist in the Northern Suburbs of Sydney, I’ve found myself treating more and more people complaining of “work from home” injuries. From work from home back pain to stiff necks, there seems to be an array of complaints stemming from this new environment.
The top five WFH-related injuries that are walking (often tentatively) into my consultation rooms are:
It’s no wonder when we’re sat hunched at an improvised desk, our spines and limbs contorted and unsupported, for hours on end!
But there is hope. I’m a big advocate for preventative care. As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure.” My patients find much-needed respite by applying the evidence-based, easy-to-implement advice I’m about to share with you. That’s what prompted me to write this article… because if you’re here, there’s a good chance you or someone you care for is doing it tough.
Tip #1: Choose a good chair
You’re probably going to spend several hours a day parked in this chair, so make sure it’s comfortable. Chairs with wheels are preferable as they allow you to move around freely. Make sure your feet can touch the ground (or use a footstool), that your thighs and lumbar curve are well supported, and that your ankles, knees and hips can each rest at approximately 90 degrees.
Tip #2: Check the basics
There are basic ergonomics rules you should follow…
- Your screen should be directly in front of you, roughly arm’s length away, and the top of the monitor should be at eye level
- Your elbows should rest comfortably on the desk, at 90 degrees
- Your keyboard and mouse should have plenty of space around them. Your wrist ought to be supported in a neutral position
- Your spine should remain in a neutral position, too. Ask someone to stand at your side while you sit. Check that your ears sit above your shoulder. A protruding head, called forward head posture, is a common cause of headaches, shoulder and neck pain
You’ll find a Workstation ergonomics self-assessment here. It’s a great free resource that will help you get your ergonomic set-up right.
Tip #3: Vary your posture
Research on posture shows us that there is no “perfect posture” we should all adopt, all the time. What makes the most significant difference is regular changes in posture. Stand up, shake it out and move as often as is possible. That’s why sit to stand desks can be great; they allow you to work from a couple of positions. Stand up desks became all the rage well before COVID-19 hit. The great thing is, they’re becoming even more portable and cost-effective. Check out Officeworks who have a wide range of options to suit most budgets.
Work from home tip: It is vital to communicate with your employer. They have a responsibility to keep you safe when you are at work, even if the definition of “at work” has changed rather dramatically.
Our new work from home world brings with it challenges and opportunities. While we can’t change the underlying coronavirus itself, we can change how we respond to our unexpected situation. We can embrace the positives and actively work to mitigate the negatives. This information in this article will help you to do both. Creating a more positive work from home experience is possible.