The curve ball that is 2020 has seen a significant amount of change in the way we live.
One of the biggest changes being the way we work. For millions, working from home is the new norm and whilst the convenience and obvious reduction in COVID-related risk is necessary, the other side of the coin is showing some concerning numbers.
Lenovo Group Conducted a survey of 20,262 people working from home during the COVID crisis and the data was shared in .
- 71% have experienced new or exacerbated pain or injury .
- Common symptoms included back pain, neck pain, eye irritation, poor posture, insomnia and headaches.
Now for those of you who have experienced pain of any kind, it is obviously physically debilitating, but on top of this, it has negative effects on mental health. This study found lower back pain as the “strongest predictor of major depression after adjusting for possible confounding factors such as demographics and medical co-morbidity” and this is one of many studies presenting similar data.
Luckily for us, we happen to be surrounded by health professionals, one of them being Justin a qualified physiotherapist and ergonomist from Ergowork with a number of decades of experience. We reached out to get an opinion on the data and the current WFH trend.
“Working from home presents significant ergonomic issues. Many or most people use basic chairs and dining tables or basic desks. Often, they just use a laptop.
The effects are poor lumbar support, lack of forearm support, rounded shoulders and forward leaning, bent necks, sharp edges pressing on underside of wrists and twisting the neck to look at paperwork or documents.
All employers have a duty to set their employees up properly since their home is now their workplace.
Apart from providing a proper ergonomic chair (which has adjustable armrests, lumbar etc), a separate screen, keyboard and mouse for the laptop, some simple solutions include:
- Sit high enough so the desk or table edges don’t dig into your wrists eg. horizontal forearms are level with table top when you are sitting relaxed against the backrest; if no proper chair yet, use cushions to achieve an effective sitting height;
- Use the armrests to support elbows and desk to support wrists when keying and mousing; ensure you’re sitting against backrest and shoulders are square (not rounded);
- If slippery seat surface, put some mesh rubber rug underlay on seat to stop slipping so you are able to sit against the backrest;
- Better to sit high on cushions with thighs angled down and no direct back support than to sit at normal height with poor back support;
- Have the screen below eye level eg.top of screen is level with your eyes or up to 10-15 degrees below horizontal (when your head is relaxed your eyes are actually looking 10-15 degree below horizontal - try it!!)
- Focus on relaxed keying and mousing, down regulate tension in arms, shoulders and neck;
- Get up often and walk around plus exercise!”
It is important to note that there is a duty of care for employers to ensure you have a safe working environment. Unfortunately, that brings a whole host of additional logistical issues when it comes to the employers' responsibility (not that they have enough already).
On top of this advice our mitigation suggestions are as follows:
Get out as often as possible.
Taking the time in the morning AND the evening to get out and move will go a long way to making you feel better. Movement of any kind, be it recreational or deliberate and educated is the key to a happier and healthier body and mind – make the time to nurture it.
Move as often as possible.
Every time you think of and/or eat food, force yourself to move your body. You’re probably sitting at home in active wear or your “trackies” so moving around is pretty simple compared to when you’re draped in corporate attire. Get up, sit in a squat, do a downward dog kneel and stretch your hips, bend over and flex your spine. The options are endless, just take the few seconds to move what likes to be moved!
Deliberate exercise to mitigate the effects of sitting and working.
We’re not talking about thrashing yourself silly at a HIIT class or running 25km/week. We’re talking about lengthening and strengthening the muscles that get compromised when sitting. Find a professional that can guide you through this or try the SOF App or a whole host of educational videos on how to make your body move and feel better.
Examples of such solutions for back pain include lengthening and strengthening the muscles around the hips and spine, for managing neck pain a couple of easy tips that put the power in your hands to look after your body.
At the end of it all, most of our working lives have changed indefinitely. Ultimately, the choice is yours, sit, wallow and suffer, or jump around, take personal responsibility and work on some solutions – they are out there, you just have to look.