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Top physio Jonathan Smith offers advice on how to avoid those back twinges and arm strains while working from home
Working from home is becoming increasingly popular. Commuting in the car or on the train every day increasingly looks like an entirely silly use of your time. It’s not often a pleasant experience and cutting out the commute means you can start your day earlier and get more done, or finish earlier in time to collect the kids from school.
But if working from home can benefit your mental health, it can be bad for your physical health.
At risk of stating the obvious: a home is not an office. Most homeworkers will know the tweak in your back from sitting at a dining room seat rather than an office chair or the aching arm after typing with your laptop at the wrong height.
Luckily, help is at hand. Jonathan Smith is a Chartered Physiotherapist at MLH Physio and here he writes about the simple steps you can take to stay in tip top condition while working from home.
It’s estimated that one in seven people in the UK are working from home. Being chained to the desk 9-5 is becoming a thing of the past for the average office worker and technology has had a profound effect on the way we work. Having the flexibility to work from almost any location with the same digital access as we would have in the office gives us freedom to manage our lives, families and daily tasks around our work, but it does come at a price, and unfortunately it’s health-related.
If you work in an office, you’ll likely have a desk, an adjustable chair and a monitor and it’s common now for offices to carry out work-station ergonomic assessments to ensure correct posture, limiting the potential for posture-related musculoskeletal pain.
But when working from home the temptation is to have a laptop on your knees whilst watching Sky Sports News or to be sat on a stool at the breakfast bar whilst taking in the view of your garden on a summer’s day.
It’s undeniable, the mobile office is affecting your health. I see this time and time again at my physiotherapy clinics, but fear not, there is a solution! Here’s how you can ensure your home-office set-up is preventing pain or injury.
It’s likely you will be sat on a chair that is not designed to adequately support your back for any length of time or is unable to be adjusted to the correct height for your legs. You will possibly be working with your neck flexed looking down at the screen and calling someone on a phone for long periods, holding the phone to your ear. An ergonomic chair doesn’t have to be a huge expense – there are plenty of affordable options on the market. If that’s still not an option for you, try purchasing a lumbar support cushion, cheaply available online. That extra support will make a world of difference.
Sit well and sit symmetrically. Make sure you can sit with your hips and knees at 90-degree angles and a lumbar support that encourages good upright posture. Being twisted in your seat is ok for a short period, but will be a source of discomfort if continued for too long or repeated too often. So, make sure you can directly face your screen.
Not everyone has the luxury of having a room that can be utilised as an office; working from a dining table is fine, but make sure you have set your monitor screen at eye level. You can buy inexpensive laptop stands to raise the screen height if you don’t have a separate monitor and compact Bluetooth keyboards and mice that can be used instead of the laptop keyboard. These can be cleared from the desk easily and stored in a normal size laptop bag.
If you do have regular phone calls, get a Bluetooth headset to avoid holding the phone to your ear with a bent neck. This may also give you the freedom to move and walk about whilst on the call.
The benefit of working from home is you can move, stretch and exercise without being self-conscious. If you can, move in some way every 20 minutes. If you can stand up to work, take advantage of that.
You are the boss! You can set your desk where you want to, to ensure that you have natural light but not glare. Set the temperature to your liking and having a nice view will help lift your mood when you need it to.
Working from home can improve your general wellbeing if set up correctly. If you make sure to take the best elements of working in an office and mix them with the freedom of working from home and you can have a healthy productive working week. Good luck!