We are back in lockdown, which means the majority of us are working from home once again.
For many of us – working from our desks, beds, dining tables and coffee tables, has been the norm all year. And it could be having a really negative affect on our bodies.
Since the start of the pandemic, the percentage of people working from home has risen from 5% to 71% in the UK and with many making do with makeshift work areas, so it is unsurprising that one in five home workers are reporting musculoskeletal disorders as a result.
OneWelbeck consultant orthopaedic surgeon Simon Owen-Johnstone, highlights the strain put on our bodies thanks to the reduced movement and poor posture involved with working from home.
Together with occupational therapist David Baker, they are offering their solutions to help you avoid long-term musculoskeletal damage, including reincorporating a morning commute.
Why working from home can be bad for your body
According to Simon, we have the change in our lifestyle factors to thank for our increased levels of back pain.
‘Even nine months in, many people are still making do with sub-standard desk-screen equipment, working for hours on end on a laptop or finding the lure of the sofa too strong to resist,’ says Simon.
‘When combined with the fact that we no longer have the commute to encourage us to move our bodies between waking and working, our posture is suffering as a result.’
Other factors such as increased sedentary screen time (thanks to the inability to properly socialise or take part in usual hobbies), more high-impact body weight exercise in the wake of closed gyms and the lack of natural breaks, and the increased work intensity, have all directly contributed to greater strains on our physical health.
‘The start of the day for many used to involve a personal hygiene and grooming routine, a walk to the station, some personal time for reading or listening, another walk and some social interaction all before logging on,’ says Simon.
‘Working from home, it is possible to go from bed to to the boardroom in seconds, making for a real shock start.
‘The usual office day also has brief natural pauses as a response to the surroundings. Someone asks something; phones ring, toilet breaks are further away and take longer.
‘We now lack all of this, which makes it far more intense.’
It’s also important to remember that the musculoskeletal system has the ability to affect everything else negatively.
All of these seemingly subtle lifestyle changes can have a massive affect on our posture.
The Institute of Employment Studies recently reported that people were noticing a significant decline in musculoskeletal health, with backs (55%), necks (58%) and shoulders (56%) taking the most strain.
What to do about it
It’s not all bad news, though. According to OneWelbeck’s occupational therapist David Baker, ‘motion is lotion’ and there are several steps you can take to keep your musculoskeletal system in top condition and ensure it is well-aligned, even when working:
Sit right back in your chair with your back supported, try not to slouch.
Aim to have your knees slightly lower than hips, feet flat and supported.
Elbow, shoulder and ear in a vertical line, with at least a 90-degree angle at the elbow.
Keep your eyes in line with top of the screen, at arms-distance away.
Keep your keyboard and mouse close to your body, try to avoid wide reaching for them.
Aim to keep your wrist straight when using the mouse.
Try to avoid awkward postures e.g. constant head twisting to see a monitor, or stretching fingers to press a key
Minimise leaning on your elbows or wrists.
When using the mouse and the keyboard, move from the elbow and shoulder and minimise movement from the wrist.
In your lifestyle:
Even when working from home, take a walk around the block to start your day – reincorporate your daily commute.
Try not to eat lunch at your desk, get a change of position and environment.
Try to reduce your use of tablets and phones, transfer work to a computer where possible.
For your eyes, look away from the screen at least every 20 minutes, a distance of 20 feet away, for 20 seconds
Consider mindfulness and other activities to reduce stress such as cardio-vascular exercise.
Aim to get up from your chair every 45-60 minutes, aim to avoid static postures.
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