Pre-pandemic, when the office Wifi was down or you had a sick kiddo at home, working from home meant parking yourself at the kitchen table, maybe even the couch, to grind through the workday.
Being hunched over your laptop for a day or two isn’t so bad. But now that we’re in this for the long haul, you could be feeling some new aches and pains. If so, you’re not alone.
In a recent poll conducted by the American Chiropractic Association, over 90% of more than 200 practitioners who responded shared their patients were experiencing more neck and back pain since stay-at-home rules went into effect in March. The data isn’t surprising given that a lot of us are working in less than favorable ergonomic conditions, with our heads bent downward into our phone or laptop.
Be honest, how is your neck positioning and posture as you read this very sentence?
“If you’re positioned in a way that your head is flexed forward, like when you are lying in bed on your laptop or using your phone or laptop in your lap while you’re sitting, you’re effectively trying to roll the ice cream off the cone, and your neck muscles now have to support your whole skull,” says Dr. Ty Jones, MD, a sports medicine specialist for Care Medical. “This can cause pain and tightness in the neck, and since these muscles attach along the base of the skull, this can give you tension headaches and also knots where they attach between the shoulder blades and at the base of the neck.”
Our lower backs aren’t any different. In the event that we’re slumped forward, the muscles attached along the spine then have to support our entire mid and upper body. It’s plenty of work, and ends up not feeling so great in the long run.
So, what’s your best option? Jones explains there are a few essential upgrades you can make to your WFH setup to relieve those achy shoulders and prevent health issues down the line.
Customize your home office.
While a standing desk complete with a treadmill and multiple screens is not in the cards for all of us, Jones says being mindful of three areas will improve your posture:
- A raised computer screen will keep your eyes up and neck in a neutral position.
- A chair set at a height so that when your feet are planted, your knees are just a little straighter than 90 degrees. The back of the seat should also be upright, keeping your lower back straight and your chest is open.
- Your wrists should be level with the keyboard so you can tuck in closely to where your computer is and have your elbows at a 90-degree angle.
Don’t forget to move.
How we’re seated isn’t all that needs adjusting. Movement is key in maintaining a healthy neck and back because it increases blood flow, which is helpful in warming up sore, tight muscles.
If you have an upcoming conference call, for example, see if you can call in while taking a walk. A series of 26 studies on 2,384 adults found that walking is a comparable alternative to physical exercise in alleviating chronic lower back pain.
If you can’t get a walk in, stretching can also help directly alleviate any back, shoulder, and neck pain, says Jones. Here’s a few he suggests:
- Cradle your arms behind your head, look up, push your elbows back, and arch your back forward.
- While sitting up straight, tuck your chin and hold for three seconds.
- Sit at the edge of your chair and straighten your right leg out. Plant your right heel. Once your back is straight, lean into that leg.
The underlying problem could be mental.
There’s a social media post that circulates every so often that reads something like: “If you’re reading this, release your shoulders from your ears, unclench your jaw, and remove your tongue from the roof of your mouth.”
A lot of us are feeling the mental strain these days while working from home during a pandemic. All that extra stress can intensify pain.
“When we’re stressed, we tend to carry a lot of that tension in our neck and shoulders. You may notice that your shoulders tend to be raised near your neck when you’re stressed—this can place a lot of constant strain on those muscles,” says Jones.
To help ease anxiety, try to ease your mind and body; practice deep, intentional breathing and mindfulness meditation. Consider counseling if the anxiety becomes chronic.
If you are looking to prevent back or joint pain, Amazon Care can help. Medical experts are available 24/7 to help identify the root cause of your pain and develop a short- or long-term plan to relieve it. Get started here.
*Amazon Care is unable to process workers compensation claims. If you are experiencing joint pain due to a workplace injury, please reach out to your HR representative. Visits with Amazon Care are a voluntary benefit offered through your employer and not associated with your employer’s ergonomic, disability or leave of absence departments.
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