Working from home could be having a bigger effect on your physical health than you realize (ergonomics)

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The way you’re working from home could be having a bigger effect on your physical health than you realize. Westend61/Getty Images



If your bedroom, kitchen, or a designated corner of your living space has been your office for the past year, it’s possible your body is feeling the effects.

One Call, a healthcare network management company and ancillary services provider for the workers’ compensation industry, compared claim data from 2019 to 2020 and found the following:

  • 10.3 percent increase in wrist or forearm sprain, strain, or contusion
  • 13.2 percent increase in pain in hand or finger
  • 16.2 percent increase in cervical radiculopathy, inflammation, or damage to a nerve root in the cervical spine
  • 17.9 percent increase in carpal tunnel syndrome
  • 24.6 percent increase in lower back pain
“We looked at injuries believed to be consistent with the types of injuries that could be incurred when working at a desk with a poor ergonomic setup,” Michelle Despres, vice president, national product leader of physical therapy, and ergonomics specialist at One Call, told Healthline.

Despres found the following to be the most common risk factors for those in sedentary work environments involving computer use.

Postures​

  • sitting in a slouched position with a flattened low back curve, forward head, and rounded shoulders
  • using a keyboard or mouse with hands in a non-neutral posture, which can up risk of hand or wrist discomfort
  • using a laptop with prolonged bending of the neck, overstretching muscles in the back of the neck, shortening the muscles in the front of the neck and chest

Static positions​

  • sitting without changing positions for extended periods
  • working at non-traditional workstations, such as dining table, couch, bed, floor, or household items stacked up

Contact stresses​

  • forearms resting on edge of desk
  • resting wrists on a wrist rest while keying or mousing
  • chair arms that are too high
  • seat pans pressing into the back of knees
  • chairs too high that feet dangle pressing the seat pan into backs of thighs

Stress is mostly to blame​

The COVID-19 pandemic has added stress to everyone’s life in different and similar ways.

When stress is experienced in small doses, Orlando Capiro, DC, a chiropractor at USA Sports Medicine, said the body adapts to the stressor, leaving us more robust and adaptable. When this occurs, it is referred to as “good stress” or eustress.

“It is this dynamic interplay between eustress (good) and distress (bad) that needs to be carefully balanced. The point at which the body transitions from eustress to distress is known as the fatigue point, and is different for each of us,” Capiro told Healthline.

Hours spent stressed and sitting in front of backlit screens forces people to hold their bodies differently.

“Our muscles are tense. Our breathing patterns change. And these stress-related physical changes shift our spinal alignment. With this shift, a vicious cycle occurs where poor spinal health impacts our physical health and increases our stress level. This increase in stress will now have an impact on our spinal health,” said Capiro.

Over the past year, he said his practice has seen an increase in complaints about fatigue, headaches, digestive issues, neck and low back pains, tense muscles, and even sleep disturbances.

“Among these symptoms, low back pain and headaches have been the [most common] conditions. And it is no wonder why,” said Capiro.

When it comes to back pressure, Despres points out that many people working remotely do so in a myriad of chairs they have at home, which are often not designed for office work. Moreover, she said those who have a traditional office chair are often unaware of how to correctly adjust it.

“Most are familiar with raising and lowering the chair, but office chairs are largely highly adjustable, including many that offer adequate lumbar support,” said Capiro. “In the absence of adequate lumbar support, it is very easy to fix with household items, such as creating a lumbar roll out of a towel and placing in the curve of your back.”

Ways to improve your workspace​

While you may be working from home for a while longer, there are ways to make your workspace more comfortable.

“Discomfort from poor alignment, static positions, or contact stresses is avoidable. It is as easy as understanding proper techniques and can largely be resolved by self-corrective actions,” said Despres.

The following tips can help you get started.

1. Align your body

When sitting up straight, relax your shoulders and keep your elbows at level with the keyboard.

“Raise the chair if needed to achieve this, but then add a footrest if needed to support the feet. The top of the monitor should be about level with eyebrows unless using bifocals,” said Despres.

If you have bifocals and view the screen from the bottom of the lenses, when using a laptop, consider adding a riser to raise the laptop screen to eyebrow level, and add an external full-sized keyboard and mouse, suggested Despres.

Capiro agreed and said to keep your eye level aimed at the center of your computer screen.

“This means if you’re looking down at your screen, raise it up using books or boxes. This will help keep your spine aligned and prevent related pains,” he said.

2. Pay attention to your arms

When you’re typing on your keyboard, Capiro said your arms should be at your sides and elbows bent to 90 degrees.

If your chair has armrests, Despres recommends adjusting them to allow for relaxed shoulders, and only use the armrests and wrist rests when you are taking a break.

“If arms are not adjustable and not properly supportive, consider removing them,” she said.

3. Support your lower back

A good way to support your back is to make sure your buttocks is pressed firmly against the back of your chair.
Capiro suggests using a small cushion or rolling up a towel and keeping it pressed against your lower back.
“This should allow your lower back to arch back slightly and not slump forward,” he said.

4. Take vision breaks

Staring at a screen for hours isn’t good no matter where you work, but since there are no water cooler breaks at home, Despres suggested making it a point every 15 to 20 minutes to focus on a distant object in the room for a few seconds before bringing your gaze back to the monitor.

5. Move around and stretch

Get in the routine of standing up and stepping away from your computer every 20 to 30 minutes.

“And shake/stretch it out for a minute or two. Remember, motion is lotion,” said Capiro.

Practicing compensatory stretching can help too. This is achieved by stretching tight muscle groups, such as your chest, back, wrists, shoulders, hips, and legs.

“Keep circulation normalized while sitting by doing seated heel raises. Finally, and very importantly, change positions frequently,” said Despres.

One way to ensure you change positions is to attach positional changes to a task.

For example, Despres suggested that every time you hit send on an email, stand up and then sit back down.

“When proofing an email, stretch. Take meals away from your workstation, and if on a conference call where you do not have to be at the computer, consider a brief walk in the yard,” she said.

6. Invest in equipment

If your chair and desk are contributing to your discomfort, Despres said you there are ergonomically friendly equipment options at a lower cost.

“Many times, that investment can be less than $30 for items that would further improve the ergonomics of a workstation,” she said.

However, quality chairs can be expensive.

“If someone is planning to invest in one, they can go to an office supply store and try out the chairs on display to help guide the decision or go see an ergonomist to be measured for a chair that will help ensure a proper fit,” said Despres.

Your best way to comfort, she adds, is seeing a professional who can help you with your equipment or discomfort as soon as you feel symptoms.

“Cumulative trauma disorders occur over time so early reporting of discomfort or a comprehensive prevention strategy can minimize or eliminate the risk that leads to injuries, lower efficiency, reduced productivity, and costs,” said Despres.


 
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I can say for fact I think my eyes have gotten worse :lol

But other than that I'm good and I think this article is propaganda lol. I've never been less stressed. In fact, I actually got anxiety at the announcement of California reopening because I know this WHF thing is coming to an end. I started stressing about all the things I need to do before June and stressing at the idea of having to see those damn people everyday again.
 
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I believe it. I get up and take so many breaks. I’ve had better luck since switching from regular office chair to exercise ball.
 
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4. Take vision breaks

Staring at a screen for hours isn’t good no matter where you work, but since there are no water cooler breaks at home, Despres suggested making it a point every 15 to 20 minutes to focus on a distant object in the room for a few seconds before bringing your gaze back to the monitor.
Thanks for tagging me OP!

I wish I could be mindful of this tip, but the nature of my work does not allow me to take breaks every 15-20 minutes, so I'll probably just rest my eyes when I can.

I've been dealing with lower back pain but I think I need to order an ergonomic chair because my current one isn't ideal.
Me too! I tried getting one from staples, but I set the bish up and it's terrible smh. Have to return it. Are there are chairs in particular that you're interested in?

By the way, my physical therapist shared some exercises with me. I can't find any exact diagrams, but these are close:

Hold your hands 90s degress at your sides with palms up. Move your hands/arms apart so they are pointing to your left and right, and squeeze your shoulder blades (without arching your back or straining) for about 10-30 seconds several times.

schulterblaetter_zusammenziehen2hd.png


Put one hand under your thigh (or hold your arm rest) and let your head fall to the opposite side. (So if you're anchoring yourself using your right hand, you will let your head fall to the left.) Hold this for 10-30 seconds and do the other side.

03-HeadTilt.jpg


Also make sure to "tuck" your chin back. Almost like you're making a double or triple chin. My physical therapist told me you should not have your chin jutted out because that puts strain on the neck. If you have to, move your computer closer to you. This is exaggerated, but something like this:

@YBP-Best-Exercise-Chin-tuck_GIF-1.gif


There are other exercises, but I don't think there are good examples available for me to post. She also told me to stand up, do these exercises, and stretch as often as I can (so at least 15-20 minutes).
 
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Lower back issues for sure. I never got them in the office. I also got weird pangs in my hips for a few months. Once I started stretching each morning it stopped.

we also are spending more time at the computer without breaks while working from home. It’s just bad all around, I‘m so over it.
 
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propaganda to open offices

my job has already let some leases go and when we open offices back up it’ll probably be with agile seating.

I like that wfh makes it easier to have meetings across locations, but hate everything else about it. Meetings run smoother when everyone is virtual vs half of attendees being in person and the other half being dialed in on a conference phone.
 
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Me too! I tried getting one from staples, but I set the bish up and it's terrible smh. Have to return it. Are there are chairs in particular that you're interested in?
No I basically order everything from Amazon so I've just been looking at ergonomic chairs on there that have good customer ratings.
 
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I think this article is propaganda lol.

propaganda to open offices

I can't speak to the author's motives but I can say there's no propaganda behind my posting the article here. Ergonomic injuries are very real and unfortunately, I've experienced a few of them in the 10+ years I've been working at home.

Trust me when I tell you, there's nothing sexy about this

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You can get away with ignoring proper ergonomics in the short term but it will catch up to you in the long run. The best way to avoid ailments like carpal tunnel syndrome, back pain and spasms is to orient your workspace to promote a healthy body.
 
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It really helps to get an ergonomic chair. The prices were ridiculous so I ended up getting a gaming chair since a lot of them are ergonomic because they are made for sitting for long periods of time. The price was good also and I got a black/white one, not the ones with the crazy colors. I also bought a separate ergonomic seat cushion for it from Amazon.
 
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Nope. Working from home is having a great benefit to my physical health. Nice try, article writer. Nobody wants to go back into the office just for an ergonomic chair. I use a standing desk at home, which makes me move around more, and greatly reduces those problems listed. I take frequent breaks to sit.
 
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yes! my firm gave us a WFH stipend. they already gave me additional monitors and an ergonomic keyboard/mouse/number pad, so I bought a full sized standing desk and monitor lights
 
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Nice try, article writer. Nobody wants to go back into the office just for an ergonomic chair.
Absolutely nothing in this article advocates for returning to offices. The writer gives tips for improving the ergonomics of your home workspace and encourages making adjustments so you don't experience aches and pains down the line.

I sense that you came in and only read the title before commenting but it's right there in black and white:

Ways to improve your workspace​

While you may be working from home for a while longer, there are ways to make your workspace more comfortable.

Hopefully one or two of these tips can help you in your current setup.

ETA: I updated the thread title so the purpose of this article is clearer.
 
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These tips are a wonderful reminder. I'm currently slouching on my bed over my laptop. I plan to work from home as long as I can so I should invest in some equipment
 
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Ehhhh any increased physical stress (which is little to none in my case) is offset by a decrease in mental and emotional stress caused by being around my coworkers. They can go away from me with this because I will be working 100% remote permanently in the next few months.
 
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Absolutely nothing in this article advocates for returning to offices. The writer gives tips for improving the ergonomics of your home workspace and encourages making adjustments so you don't experience aches and pains down the line.

I sense that you came in and only read the title before commenting but it's right there in black and white:



Hopefully one or two of these tips can help you in your current setup.

ETA: I updated the thread title so the purpose of this article is clearer.

Actually, I read the entire article. I'm sensing that you don't understand humor and nuance. The part of my post that you quoted was me being facetious. And the article is propaganda whether you choose to see it that way or not. Also, my post offered another tip, which was to use a standing desk. And don't quote me again because I don't want to go back and forth with someone who doesn't understand how to read between the lines. The article gives some good tips and I will continue to enjoy working from home ergonomically.
 
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yes! my firm gave us a WFH stipend. they already gave me additional monitors and an ergonomic keyboard/mouse/number pad, so I bought a full sized standing desk and monitor lights
I wish my company gave a stipend. I have my ergonomic keyboard from the office. I plan to upgrade my chair soon but I won’t be able to expense it.
 
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It really helps to get an ergonomic chair. The prices were ridiculous so I ended up getting a gaming chair since a lot of them are ergonomic because they are made for sitting for long periods of time. The price was good also and I got a black/white one, not the ones with the crazy colors. I also bought a separate ergonomic seat cushion for it from Amazon.
Same. They are super comfy and I don't get those aches in my back anymore. Getting a posture stool helped immensely too.
 
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A big one is making sure your chair height matches your desk so your elbow is at 90 degrees and your wrist is straight when you type. If you're not at a desk, you can prop your forearms up on a pillow or get a laptop stand.
 

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