We were two months into the pandemic when a 10 minute video went viral among the Well+Good editorial team. “This is life-changing!” one person commented on Slack after it was shared. “Wow, I needed this today,” someone else typed.
What was so necessary that everyone dropped everything to watch it ASAP? Harry Styles playing with a litter of puppies? A surprise celebrity baby announcement? Nope, it was a neck and shoulder stretch video on YouTube. Working from our couches, beds, and at-home desks had left virtually everyone in pain—and this was at the beginning of COVID-19.
Now that many people have been working from home for almost a full eight months (yep, it’s been that long), chiropractors are starting to see the damage it’s causing, and it isn’t pretty. “At the beginning of the pandemic, chiropractor clinics were just open for true, dire emergencies, but now people are coming in for preventive care or flare-ups they’ve started having due to working from home,” BJ Hardick, DC, a chiropractor and author of Align Your Health says.
There are a a few recurring issues Dr. Hardick says he’s been seeing a lot of lately, and while most people can’t exactly change their WFH status, he says there are ways to help minimize the literal pain points. Keep reading to see a rundown of the most common work from home problems he sees—and how to solve them.
3 work-from-home posture problems and how to solve them ASAP
1. The problem: Too much pressure at the base of the spine
The solution: Switch up where you’re working throughout the day
“One of the main issues I’ve seen is that people are sitting a lot more and not being as active, and that’s really affecting their [alignment], particularly at the base of the spine,” Dr. Hardick says. He points out that if you work in an office, there’s at least a little movement built into your day. You’re getting up to talk to colleagues or go to meetings, might leave mid-day to pick up some lunch, and you walk from your parking spot or the subway stop into the building. “Besides [losing] this built-in type of activity, a lot of people are working out less too because they haven’t felt safe going to the gym or to fitness classes,” Dr. Hardick adds.
The bottom line (no pun intended), is that we’re all sitting around more than we used to—and that’s an issue for spine health. “[Excessive] sitting puts pressure on the lumbar spine, which consists of five vertebrae at the lower part of the spine, between the ribs and pelvis,” Dr. Hardick says. He explains that this can cause the lower spine to feel sore or stiff.
In this case, he says the solution is a fairly obvious one: Find ways to work movement and standing into your day so you aren’t on your butt so much. “If you have a high counter—like in the kitchen—bring your computer there for part of the day so you can stand and work,” Dr. Hardick says. And of course exercising before or after work—even if it’s just taking a short walk—can help, too.
2. The problem: Sore neck and shoulders from hunching over the computer
The solution: Make your computer slightly higher than your head
Besides sitting too much, Dr. Hardick says when people are at the computer, often their posture is all wrong—and can cause them misalignment and pain if it isn’t corrected. “This is especially common for people who are used to having a whole work station but now they’re just using one laptop at home,” he says. Dr. Hardick explains that many people look down at their computer, jutting their neck toward the screen, which then causes the shoulders to roll forward. “This is why so many people have neck and shoulder issues,” he says.
In the short-term, Dr. Hardick says this positioning causes the neck and shoulder muscles to tense up, which can be quite painful. In the long-term, he says hunching over the computer can actually lead to disc degeneration in the lower part of the neck.
One fix that he says goes a long way in terms of preventing these types of problems is positioning your computer a couple inches higher than your eye-line, which you can do by placing it on a small stack of books or a computer stand. That way, he explains, you’re not putting pressure on the neck to look down. “Unfortunately, there is no one perfect workplace solution that can prevent the problem of hunching forward, but how you position your computer can help,” Dr. Hardick says.
He also says doing some gentle neck and shoulder stretches (like in that video so many Well+Good editors love) that reverse the positioning of being hunched forward can help, too. It won’t undo eight hours of poor posture, but, it can help. Some moves to try: windmilling your arms backward, gently shaking your head from left to right and up and down, and a door stretch (done by expending your arms out straight in an open doorway, stretching slightly forward for 30 seconds).
3. The problem: Wrist and finger pain from typing
The fix: Rubber-band hand stretches
Not all of the work from home health probs Dr. Hardick sees has to do with the spine; many people are experiencing carpal tunnel-type symptoms from typing so much. While this certainly isn’t a problem only those working from home experience, a recent report from the National Bureau of Economic Research says that many people are actually working longer hours from home. This could, in turn, exacerbate the problem.
“Something I recommend to people who type a lot is to keep some rubber bands at their desk. When you’re on a call or doing a work task that doesn’t involve typing, extend your fingers out so that it looks like you’re signaling the number five, and then wrap the rubber band around the pinky and the thumb, using it to engage the extensor muscles, which are on the back of the hand,” Dr. Hardick says. This, he explains, is the complete opposite of the claw-like positioning hands are in while typing. “This hand stretch is much better than keeping a stress ball on your desk to squeeze because squeezing a stress ball is still positioning the fingers forward, not backward,” he adds.
Spending the majority of the day sitting in front of the computer is never going to feel good—no matter how much you spend on an ergonomic chair. But Dr. Hardick says these tips can at least make it a little easier on the body. Follow his chiropractor tips for working from home and you may emerge from these “unprecedented times” quite literally head and shoulders above the rest.
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