After months of sitting at makeshift desks in our spare bedrooms or hunched over a laptop on the couch or at the kitchen table, many of us are experiencing a nagging pain in the neck. A recent Bloomberg study reports that 71 percent of Americans working from home during the pandemic have experienced pain, and the most common symptoms include back and neck discomfort, poor posture, headaches, and difficulty sleeping or insomnia.
“We’re seeing more patients coming into our offices with complaints of neck, back and spine pain,” says Bradley Bley, D.O., at Delaware Orthopaedic Specialists. “In many cases, people are sitting much more than they’re used to and poor posture is often to blame, which can lead to pain.”
But with some minor modifications and by paying attention to your body throughout the day, it’s easy to alleviate those aches and pains.
“Many of the issues people are experiencing are largely due to ergonomic changes as a result of transitioning from a normal workstation to working in a home environment,” says Adam Ginsberg, D.O., at First State Orthopaedics. “Many people are sitting on kitchen chairs, stools or the couch, as opposed to a desk chair, which, after working for eight to 12 hours a day, five or six days a week, can lead to significant back pain and stiffness, or something called kyphosis—an increased curve in the upper spine or exaggerated, forward rounding of the back.”
Setting up an ergonomically designed workspace within your home is one of the most important steps you can take to avoid neck, back and spine pain from sitting for extended periods of time. While it’s important to have an adequate desk space, a kitchen table is also fine, as long as you have an appropriate chair to sit in. You should be able to sit in a comfortable position with your feet flat on the floor and your back straight. In addition, you should be able to keep your arms at around 90 degrees with your hands flat on the table. You can always use a lumbar pillow or rolled-up towel for back support, as well as a laptop riser to keep your monitor at eye level.
“When a desk is too high, it puts a strain on the forearms,” Ginsberg explains. “You also don’t want a desk that’s too low or you’ll be looking down at your monitor, which will put a strain on your neck. You should be able to cross your legs under your desk and have the top of your computer screen at eye level.”
It’s also important to take frequent breaks and get up and move around throughout the day. A good rule of thumb is to get up and stretch or walk around every 20 to 30 minutes. When you’re sitting at your desk, rotate your shoulders up and back every so often and stretch out your wrists. Exercises like chin tucks (sit up straight in a chair with your shoulders back, and pull your chin back toward your neck) or neck flexes (move your head left to right and floor to ceiling for a few seconds at a time) can also help to alleviate stress and strain on your neck and back.
With a little practice, you can get into a regular routine to make working from home less of a pain and increase your productivity in the process.