Working from home, while helpful in preventing the spread of COVID-19, has given rise to other health problems such as chronic pain in the neck and lower back.
“Poor positioning of work equipment and sitting longer in chairs that were not designed for desk jobs can cause health issues that may get in your day-to-day tasks and affect your productivity, and even make you more prone to injury and fatigue,” says Anne Kathleen Ganal-Antonio, MD of the Department of Orthopedics of Makati Medical Center.
With many people still conducting their businesses from their homes, the orthopedic doctor offers practical tips and simple adjustments that can help get the work done minus the unnecessary aches and pains.
Create an ergonomic workspace
There’s no need to buy expensive office furnishings to be comfortable while working from home, “just improvise,” advises Dr. Ganal-Antonio.
“Make sure your computer screen is in front of you at a comfortable viewing height, not in a place where you have to look down. If you use a laptop, prop it up to eye level on a stack of books or a sturdy box, and invest in an external keyboard and mouse. Your forearms and hands must be level and straight when you use the keyboard, and your arm must be close to the side of your body when using the mouse,” she says.
“The more your arm is stretched to the side, the greater the chance of straining your neck and shoulder.”
As for the way to sit, hips and knees should be level, or the hips are slightly above the knees. “Avoid slouching or leaning forward. Instead, sit with your upper back straight and your lower back curving to the shape of the chair. Use a pillow to support your lower back. Make sure too that your feet touch the floor.”
Dr. Ganal-Antonio also recommends using standing tables or a foot stool. “According to the pioneering study conducted by Swedish spine researcher and orthopedic surgeon Alf Nachemson, when we flex forward, more stress is concentrated at the discs, which are the shock absorbers of the spine.”
“It’s best to be slightly reclined, about 110 degrees. You can use standing tables to lessen the stress. Adding a foot stool to alternately rest each foot can also help.”
Sitting is the new smoking, they say, as studies have linked longer sitting time with higher risk of death, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Standing for long periods has also been associated with varicose veins and back pain. Dr. Ganal-Antonio shares, “A Cornell University professor of ergonomics suggests following the rule of 20-8-2: Sit for 20 minutes, get up for 8 minutes, and move around for at least 2 minutes.”
Use the break to stretch, roll the shoulders, do arm circles, or touch the toes. “You can also give yourself a reason to stand up and move,” the doctor adds. “Place the printer or phone on the other side of the room so you have no choice but to get up and walk when you need them.”
Work out in your workplace
Working from home offers us the freedom to squeeze in activities like stretching or exercising before and after (or even during) work.
Dr. Ganal-Antonio recommends starting and ending a workday with simple yet effective exercises that strengthen the core and target the muscles on the back and shoulders. “Begin with 10 squats, 10 tricep dips using a stable chair, and 10 wall push-ups. You can also do jumping jacks, push-ups, and crunches to stimulate circulation.”
Those who experience chronic body pain and other health concerns are recommended to contact MakatiMed On-Call at (02) 8888-8999 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.