After a year of working from home, Americans are seeing a rise in back and shoulder injuries. Here’s how to address these common orthopedic problems.
As the pandemic continues to reshape daily life, many people are recognizing the drawbacks of setting up an in-house office. Working from the couch or kitchen table may be more convenient and less stressful than a long commute, but it’s taking a toll on our orthopedic health.
At-home workers report a rise in back, shoulder, and neck pain, according to one study. Hinge Health also surveyed about 900 employees and found that nearly half (45 percent) reported back and joint pain since switching to their home office.
Yet there are simple ways to avoid orthopedic injuries while working from home — it just takes a few updates to your home-based workstation.
Preventing Orthopedic Injuries At Home
Unfortunately, most home offices lack the perks that support your spine, namely an office chair and a computer with a separate keyboard. In fact, the Hinge Health survey found that only 48 percent of respondents reported having a comfortable desk chair at home. And only about 40 percent said they had a computer monitor with an external keyboard. This means you’re likely hunched over a laptop as you sit at a kitchen chair or stool that provides little to no support for the spine.
Another issue is the lack of activity while working from home. When sprawled out in your house or apartment, you’re more likely to sit and work all day instead of taking coffee or lunch breaks. While walking around an office may not seem like a lot of exercise, it does force you to occasionally unlock stiff muscles.
Fortunately, you don’t have to spend a lot of money on a new office chair and desk for your house. Instead, you can make your home workspace more ergonomic with a few tweaks:
Align Your Spine. Aligning your spine doesn’t mean keeping your back straight; it means maintaining your spine’s natural S-curve as you sit. A straight-backed kitchen chair won’t do that, but it will if you wedge a rolled up towel behind your lower back. Your feet should be flat on the floor, with your thighs parallel to the floor and knees even with your hips. If your feet don’t reach the floor because the chair is too high, rest your feet on a footrest or even a pile of books.
Get an External Keyboard. If you make one investment while working from home, it should be an external keyboard and mouse for your laptop. A laptop with a connected keyboard isn’t the optimal ergonomic setup because you’re forced to look down, which puts pressure on the spine and throws the neck out of alignment. With a separate keyboard and mouse, however, you can arrange your workspace similar to your office desk by propping the laptop on a riser or pile of books with the keyboard below.
Adjust Monitor Level. Position the top of your monitor at or slightly below eye level so your eyes view the middle of the screen when looking slightly downward. You should be able to comfortably view the top third of your screen without looking down. Hold your neck straight; if you have to bend your neck too far up or down, you need to change the monitor height. To get the right monitor height, prop it on a riser or pile of books, or adjust your chair height if you can. In addition, place the monitor about an arm’s length away from you, with your elbows positioned comfortably at your sides. Be aware of your wrist placement, as well. A flat keyboard or a keyboard where the bottom row is raised helps keep your wrists in a straight line.
Take a Break. Taking frequent breaks to walk around prevents your muscles from stiffening up and getting sore. Much of the orthopedic injuries caused by working from home are due to repetitive actions. Disrupt that cycle by moving whenever you can.
Taking Care of Your Orthopedic Health at Home
Experiencing back and shoulder pain while working from home? The specialists at New York Bone & Joint are ready to examine you and recommend exercises and other ways to make your home office more comfortable.
Whether working in an office or at home, you have the power to combat orthopedic pain. Contact us today for a consultation.