Millions of people across the country have spent the last couple of months working from home, and millions are going to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. In fact, many companies have made permanent changes to allow for more flexible work conditions in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The greater flexibility is great. What’s not so great is trying to replicate an ergonomic office environment on the fly, without the corporate resources. That means countless individuals have been working from the couch, from the bed, or from a chair that isn’t meant for eight-hour days (or more!). If you have neck or back pain by working at home, you’re not alone.
“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, roughly 1 in 6 U.S. workers, some 26 million people, worked either partly or fully from home,” said TIME. “Now that number has grown significantly. If you’re one of these people, you may be noticing new aches and pains that you did not experience at the office.”
Six Ways to Avoid Neck or Back Pain from Working at Home
1. Beware of “text neck”
If you don’t have the proper setup at home, chances are you’re hunched over, neck bent down and shoulders slumped. This has come to be known as “text neck” for the posture that is increasingly seen when people spend too much time on their devices.
Constantly leaning over a laptop or keyboard can put “strain on your lumbar region, which can lead to back injuries,” said Huffington Post.
2. Get off the couch
That’s good advice in general, but when it comes to your back health, spending the day on the couch is a no-no. “Whatever you do, do not work on your sofa: Your sofa is the worst place for you to work for a prolonged period of time,” said Wired. “Not only will your posture immediately worsen, but the perception of comfort can also stop you from moving around as much.”
The same goes for the bed. “A bed is even worse for you than a chair because unless you sit on the side of the bed, your legs will be crossed or extended horizontally, acting as support for your laptop,” said TIME. “That’s too low for optimal screen viewing, so you’ll have to hunch over. If a bed is your only option, put a pillow behind your back to rest against the headboard and put your laptop on a cushion in your lap. Or get a low table for the laptop to go over your legs so you can type at a comfortable height without straining your neck.”
3. Buy a better chair
If working from home is now more than a temporary thing, it might be time to invest in a real office chair. Once you’ve got a good chair, make sure you sit in it properly. Sitting up too straight can be as bad for your neck and back as hunching over and can lead to discomfort and even injury.
“Your back is actually supposed to recline 15 to 20 degrees to keep your hips open, not be ramrod straight,” said Huffington Post. “Recline your seat if your chair is adjustable, and if not, get up frequently. If you are working from a dining chair that has no give and you are hoping that this remote work situation is just temporary, keep your body moving.”
You’ll also want to make sure you position your legs correctly. If you’re crossing your feet or legs for long periods of time or your legs and feet don’t meet the floor at the right angle (or at all), you could end up in pain.
“If your feet don’t reach the floor, use a box, pile of books, cushion, or footrest,” said TIME. “Don’t pull your feet back underneath the chair or let them dangle in the air–this puts pressure under the thighs, restricts blood flow to your lower legs and feet, and increases your risk of deep vein thrombosis.”
Poor circulation in your legs plus back and neck issues can make for one painful experience! One way to lessen the effects of both and also give your brain a breather is to take frequent breaks. “Periodic breaks every 20 minutes to move around are another way to promote good circulation,” said Huffington Post.
4. Elevate your laptop
Ideally, the top of your monitor should be just below eye level, so you don’t have to strain your neck to read,” said CNBC. “If you’re working on a reading-intensive task, prop your laptop up on objects (like a stack of books or shoeboxes) so it’s eye-level. Then, when you need to type, you can lower it to a level that allows your arms to be bent at 90-degree angles.”
The same goes for your keyboard and mouse. You’ll want to make sure your elbows are at a 90-degree angle to be ergonomic.
5. Adjust the angle of your screen
“Some people like to put their keyboard and mouse in front of them with their screen off to the side, but then they end up dealing with neck pain from the swiveling,” said TIME.
6. Choose the right chair
If you’re investing in a new chair, keep this in mind: “All the experts agree that, ideally, a chair should have a height adjustment, to avoid unnecessary muscle strain that causes aching necks and backs,” said The Guardian. “The chair should support your lower back, so the spine is in its natural S-shape.”
If your existing chair is not supportive, try this home hack: place a small pillow or rolled-up towel behind your lower back to mimic the function of an ergonomic chair.
Treating Neck or Back Pain from Working at Home
If working from home is creating back or neck pain, or worsening an existing condition, it might be time to call a doctor. Be sure to choose one who is well-versed in a variety of treatments including minimally invasive techniques.
If you’re ready to put an end to your pain or if you want more information about treatment options, contact the DISC Spine Institute, experts in minimally invasive treatments, the most effective medical procedures to treat and eliminate chronic back pain. Today’s minimally invasive procedures include outpatient treatments and easier surgical treatments with small incisions and a quicker recovery time instead of a long hospital stay.