Experiencing Back or Neck Pain From Working From Home? Try This

June 13, 2022

WFH is one of the latest acronyms to make it into the American lexicon—and with no small thanks to social distancing efforts inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Pew Research, more people now work from home than ever before, and a majority of remote workers say they’d like to keep working remotely even after the pandemic finally ends.

For all its benefits, of course, working from home does pose its fair share of challenges, including an elevated risk of back pain and neck pain. If you’ve been experiencing more discomfort in your spine since transitioning to a WFH-lifestyle, here are three things you can do to get relief and avoid long-term problems.

1. Do a Desk Makeover

Take a look at your home office space and rearrange it so it aligns with some basic ergonomic principles. The more body-mechanics-friendly your desk is, the less likely you are to strain the tissues in your neck and back as you work over the course of the day.

Here are some key points to consider:

  • Put your computer screen monitor at or slightly below eye level and one arm’s length away from you
  • Look for a chair that features good lumbar support and allows you to sit straight while maintaining the natural curve in your spine (be aware of your head position, too—for every one inch forward you put your head relative to your body, your spine takes on an additional 10 lbs of weight!)
  • While seated, your shoulders should be relaxed, your elbows should bend to about 90 degrees, and your feet should rest flat on the floor (or a stool)
  • Position your hands over your keyboard so there is minimal bending at your wrists

If you can, invest in an adjustable standing desk so you can alternate between standing and sitting throughout your day. The ability to stand at your desk is a great strategy for preventing back and neck pain, because even the best sitting posture can strain the spine if you’re in one position for too long. And on that note…

2. Move More (Use Reminders if You Have To!)

Keeping your spine happy while working from home isn’t about staying still and keeping the “perfect posture” at all times. Quite the contrary—getting up frequently throughout your day is essential for preventing pain because it combats muscle and joint stiffness and promotes healthy circulation.

A good rule of thumb is to get up and move at least twice an hour (about once every 30 minutes or so). If you’re worried about productivity, consider that even just a few minutes of stretching or brisk walking each hour can help you avoid distracting aches and pains that would simply slow you down in the long run!

Of course, if you’re like many hardworking people, you might become so absorbed in your work that hours will go by without you even realizing it. To make sure you don’t forget to move, try these tips:

  • Set a recurring alarm on your phone
  • Write yourself a reminder in a place that’s easy to see from your workspace
  • Use a pedometer to track your steps or even set a steps-per-hour goal (e.g., 250-500 steps per hour)
  • Make a rule to take all your phone calls while standing or walking
  • Keep a water bottle at your desk and drink regularly—the frequent- but not too frequent (ideally you void once every 2-4 hours) bathroom breaks will help you stay moving!

While you’re up, do some brisk walking, deep breathing, or gentle stretches like shoulder circles, arm swings, and leg swings.

3. Build Up the Body

Off the clock, take time to invest in your spinal health with core strengthening exercises, stretching (especially in the shoulders and hips), and even aerobic activity—all of which help reduce and prevent musculoskeletal pain.

A bonus: regular exercise also combats mental stress, which often goes hand-in-hand with back pain and neck pain.

If you’re really struggling with pain or dysfunction, talk to a physical therapist (PT). A PT can prescribe specific exercises and stretches based on your body’s needs and offer non-invasive techniques that will alleviate your pain and improve the overall health of your spine

In Conclusion

Whether you’re back in the office or still working from home, work-related back pain and neck pain are common issues that can be avoided with some simple strategies. Find what works for you and consult with a professional if you have pain lasting longer than a few weeks.

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