With COVID-19 drastically changing the lives of millions, Americans everywhere had to make a quick transition to the “work from home” lifestyle. Many New Yorkers were not given much notice for this change, leading to apartments all over the city being converted to Work From Home (WFH) spaces. There are both positives and negatives in regards to WFH, when it comes to our health. And since it's seems like the transition to a home office environment is here to stay for a while, we thought it would be a good idea to share a little practical advice.
Being able to take breaks to stretch
No longer being in the office allows for people to more readily insert stretching breaks throughout their days (without feeling judged from co-workers). Patients often tell PTs that they only feel comfortable stretching when heading to the bathroom or behind closed doors in an office setting. Being in the privacy of your own home, allows you to stretch whenever and wherever you’d like!
Changing to different areas
Another benefit of working from home is being able to alter your workstation as often as you like. This is in contrast to being in one chair and desk all day at work. For example, when you’re home you can go from your dinning table, to a couch, to your favorite chair, to your bed, and repeat. By changing the surfaces you sit on, your body is being put in different positions which allows for more distribution of forces/loads into your joints.
Working in non-ergonomic set ups
Many people were not given advanced notice to set up their home. Therefore, many of us are sitting in non-ergonomic set ups. At work, you may have had a sit-to-stand desk with an ergonomic chair and now you are siting at a dinning table or a chair with minimal back support. Making sure our workspaces are working for us is paramount at a time like this.
Even though you may think that one would be more active when there is more freedom to move, many times working from home leads to a more sedentary lifestyle. Many New Yorkers would usually take public transit to work which includes: walking, standing, negotiating stairs, and improving both balance and proprioception while riding the subway. No longer having a commute and not regularly having to stand and walk to go to a coworker’s desk or conference room leads to decreased overall activity in the day unless you make a conscious effort to move.
Increased Screen Time
With digital platforms being the main form of connection during this time, we are constantly in-front of screens. The many negatives of excess screen time can include: straining the eyes/ headaches, disruption of sleep patters, and having negative effects on our posture as we continue to hunch forward as the day progresses.
WHAT TO DO
So how can we make this situation work for us? Here are some tips to improve the quality of life while working from home: Make your home work station as ergonomic as possible.
You might not have an office set up, but you can make a situation better with items that can be found in your home. For example, if you are working at a dinning table, scoot in and allow the table to support your arms. That way, you can adequately use the back rest and avoid having your elbows dangling (which can put more strain on your neck and shoulders). Place books underneath your screen to bring it to eye level.
If you are at a couch or recliner, use pillows behind the small of your back to allow for low back support. Try to avoid the “slouched” position for long periods of time (for example working from your bed). Although, initially it may feel comfortable to be in this position, it places increased strain on your lower back and neck. It’s okay to sit in this position for short periods of time, but if you are like this all day you body will start letting you know that you need to make some changes (difficulty sleeping secondary to pain, back feeling constantly “stiff,”and an increase in “aches and pains”.
Take conference calls standing up. This allows to you to avoid bad sitting posture.
Incorporate these changes to allow for more neutral postures throughout the day.
Also, try to increase your activity levels to avoid being sedentary, which will allow working from home to work for you.
Also, you might consider scheduling a TeleHealth session to review your home office setup. Asking a physical therapist specific advice on how to make sure your work from home set up is working for you and learning ways of how to alleviate pain and tension from home is just one of the many patient concerns we can address with TeleHealth. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
Jari Haile, DPT, OCS, ATC, PES, is able to pinpoint faulty mechanics and movement patterns that contribute to pain. She incorporates skilled manual therapy to elongate shortened tissues, stretch tightened muscles, align the spine and decrease compression on the body’s joints. She then taps into the body’s neural pathways to “retrain the brain” how to move properly and finally break the pain-producing cycle.