A physiotherapist’s guide to remote working
Working from home went from being a relative rarity to the norm over the past 18 months. And for many organisations, remote or hybrid work is set to become a permanent fixture in the future. While working from home has already shown itself to have many benefits, employees should be mindful of the potential pitfalls that come with staying in the house during the 9 to 5. Director & Clinical Lead Physiotherapist of Activate Physiotherapy, Seong-Joon Lee explains why.
The first thing to say is that the simple process of the morning commute and even the walk between workstation and meeting rooms in the office have historically played a role in combatting sedentary behaviours and long periods spent in a fixed position. By reducing this to just small movements around the house, we have seen a clear and dramatic increase in musculoskeletal problems.
Added to this, it is evident that many people’s home office setups are having a detrimental effect on their bodies. Some people are working in bed, others on the sofa and some on high stools at a breakfast bar. This is proving to be far from ideal and is manifesting itself through aches and pains that perhaps weren’t evident two years ago.
In clinic, we are seeing that changes in daily habits are resulting in changes in loads on the body – whether it’s hunching over a screen or reaching too far for a keyboard. These issues are causing a definite trend towards neck stiffness and lower back pain, not just because the positions themselves are dangerous but because workers are remaining fixed in that one position for long periods of time.
If you are currently working from home or away from the office, here are a few daily changes you can make to help mitigate some of the risks associated with these common issues.
Get moving early
There is always the temptation to roll out of bed five minutes before logging on when working from home. But a bit of movement before work in the morning can go a long way towards avoiding pain and discomfort later in the day. Whether it’s a workout, a run, an early morning walk or some simple stretches, exercise and mobility work can get the blood flowing and loosen up muscles. This ultimately helps to combat the issues created by spending the next 7-8 hours sat at a workstation.
Create the right set up
Don’t fall into the trap of working from bed or on the sofa. You may not be in an office but working at a desk with a chair set to the appropriate height can help to prevent slouching and slumping. Ensure that your chair offers back support; your knees are parallel to your hips; your feet can rest flat on the floor; and that your monitor is positioned at eye level.
Even better, I frequently recommend to patients that they consider investing in a standing desk. Moving between a sitting and a standing position every hour or so is a great way to stay mobile. If you struggle to type comfortably standing up, why not conduct video calls standing and then lower the desk for typing tasks. It’s not simply a case of standing being better than sitting that is most relevant here. It’s that instigating changes in position and breaking up long periods in one position is the key.
Take regular breaks
If possible, try to replicate the action of moving around the company office by implementing forced periods of movement – such as a quick 5-minute stretch or walk around the house every hour or so. Not only does this give your mind a break, improving focus and creativity, but it also helps to stave off stiffness. A quick Google of office stretches and exercise and you will find plenty of examples of routines that activate the legs, glutes, back, shoulders and neck.
Your lunchbreak should be seen as a chance to get up and moving for a more extended period of time. A walk is a great way to undo some of the tension you’ve built up over the course of the morning. Of course, there are other benefits to talking regular walks on a broader level, too. 30 minutes of brisk walking a day can help to avoid weight gain, support healthy blood pressure and, according to The Stroke Association, reduce your risk of a stroke by 27%.
Breathing is an often underappreciated tool in musculoskeletal health. When we’re stressed, we tend to put more pressure on our body by clenching our jaw, hunching our shoulders, and taking shorter, sharper breaths. Making the effort to breathe deeply promotes regular elongation of the spine, increasing the space between joints. This improves the spine’s ability to twist and bend with ease. Breathing exercises are also widely used for relaxation, which in turn can help to take the tension out of your spine.
Aside from breathing techniques it is also critical to be aware that stress, anxiety and other mental health concerns can be contributing factors to musculoskeletal issues. If you begin to suffer from aches and pains through the working day, it may not just be due to your sitting position or lack of movement but could also be a sign of stress and tension. You would be surprised to know how often taking steps to improve the work–life balance can also contribute to the easing of symptoms that have presented themselves over the last year or more.
Activate Physiotherapy is a leading North East practice with clinics in North Shields and Consett. You can find out more about the services offered by the Activate team at www.activatephysio.co.uk
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