When many offices closed at the beginning of the pandemic, millions of people began working from home. This has led to a significant increase in neck, back, and joint problems because most home workspaces aren’t as ergonomic as office workspaces, and many people are working on laptops instead of desktop computers.
Here are tips for improving your posture when you’re working from home that can help you avoid common neck, back, and joint issues.
1. Make sure your screen is eye-level.
When you’re working at a desktop computer, the screen is usually at eye level, which means you can keep your neck in a neutral position while you’re working. However, when you use a laptop, it’s usually lower than eye level, which means you have to bend your neck to look at the screen.
Keeping your neck in this position for hours puts significant strain on the bones, muscles, and ligaments in the neck, leading to soreness, stiffness, and pain. To avoid these problems, try to keep your computer screen at eye level. If you do have to look down to see something, look with your eyes instead of bending your neck.
2. Stretch frequently.
Stretching is a gentle, easy way to improve your posture and keep your muscles and joints limber. It’s a good idea to stretch before you start working, take frequent stretching breaks throughout the day, and stretch at the end of your workday.
A few minutes of yoga poses or other deep stretches can make a big difference in how your muscles and joints feel.
3. Use a headset or earbuds for phone calls.
Since most meetings are now held remotely, people who work from home are spending more time on phone calls. Whenever you have to make a phone call, use a headset or earbuds so you can keep your neck in a neutral position during the call. Never hold the phone against your shoulder with your ear, since this can cause significant right-side neck pain.
4. “Reset” your shoulders frequently.
Most people begin to slouch after they’ve been working in the same position for 15 minutes. If you’re not mindful, you can spend hours of the day hunched over your workspace, which leads to significant neck and shoulder issues. To avoid this problem, “reset” your shoulders frequently throughout the day to return them to a healthy, neutral position.
An easy way to do this is to stand with your arms straight in front of you. Then bring them overhead and clasp your hands behind your low back. Lastly, let your hands go without moving your shoulders. Keeping your shoulders in this position while you’re working -- and returning them to this position when you start to slouch -- can improve your posture and prevent muscle tension and shoulder strain.
5. Use a standing desk.
While studies have shown that standing desks are not a substitute for exercise, when it comes to your cardiovascular health, working at a standing desk does burn more calories than sitting. Also, standing desks can improve your posture and reduce unnecessary muscle strain because they keep your spine in a neutral position. It's also common for people to wonder, is standing for too long bad? The important thing to remember is to not stay in the same position for too long and to switch from sitting to standing throughout your day.
6. Keep your elbows at a 90-degree angle.
Working with your hands above or below the level of your elbows puts extra tension on your shoulders, neck, and upper back. To improve your posture and keep your spine and joints in alignment, make sure your workspace allows you to keep your elbows at a 90-degree angle while you’re working.
7. Work at a table or desk.
While it may be tempting to work in bed or on the couch, it’s better to design a workspace at a table or desk. This helps to keep your laptop at eye level. It also allows you to control the height of your workspace, store objects within arms’ reach and use ergonomic furniture that provides more support than a bed or couch.
8. Support your low back.
If you’re sitting while working, make sure you have good lumbar support. You can use small pillows, lumbar support cushions, or an ergonomic office chair to support your low back and keep it in alignment with your hips and the rest of your spine.
Good lumbar support can prevent unnecessary low back strain and can also prevent exacerbation of pre-existing back problems like herniated disks or degenerative joint disease of the spine.
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Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant