Nearly overnight, COVID-19 created a remote American workforce, and many folks are still working from home at least some of the time. Companies and workers both report positive results from the great telework experiment, but it does come with certain downsides, including the possibility of a sore neck, shoulder or back pain from hunkering down in an “office” that looks more like the living room couch. Remote workers also may face feelings of isolation, poor eating habits and not enough exercise as the lines get blurred between their professional and personal spaces.
It’s important to take steps to ensure your work-from-home experience is productive and healthy. Keep the following tips in mind, and if you’re experiencing neck, shoulder, back or joint pain, reach out to your physical therapist.
Establish an appropriate work station
The most important thing you can do to foster wellness while working from home is to establish a work station that’s as ergonomically correct as possible. Don’t be tempted to work from your sofa, or worse yet, your bed. This is especially hard or working parents, who have had kids home during the spring quarantine and throughout the summer. But no matter what your home life is like, find a spot that allows you to focus and sit up straight, comfortably.
Protect your posture
Whether it’s the kitchen table or a proper desk, your home work station should allow you to place your feet flat on the floor in front of you. Your knees should be at the same level as your hips, creating a 90-degree angle with your planted feet. Similarly, your arms should form a 90-degree angle at the elbows. Your elbows should be positioned close to your trunk and your forearms should be straight in front of you, working at a flat, not raised, keyboard. Your spine should be straight. If you need them, place cushions or rolled bath towels between the chair and your lower back. Ideally, your computer screen is half the distance between your eyes and your keyboard, which can be hard when working on a laptop. Consider adding an external keyboard, so you can elevate your laptop. In the absence of that, be careful not to crane your neck down as you look at your screen.
Move frequently throughout the day
No matter where you work, don’t remain sitting for too long. There’s no question that regular movement fosters well-being. Every hour, take a short break, stand up, stretch and get moving, even it’s for a short period. Walk the dog, complete a chore, toss the Frisbee to your kids, or just stand and stretch. If you’re back at work, regular movement is equally important. It doesn’t take much; just a few minutes of movement between long period of sitting can be very effective at increasing wellness.
Eat well and stay hydrated
With the home kitchen close by, it may be tempting to tank up on snacks. Create a schedule for eating breakfast, lunch and snacks. Stock the fridge and pantry with healthy items. And be sure to drink plenty of water. As temperatures rise, it’s important to stay hydrated not just when going outside, but throughout the day. Keeping the body hydrated helps the heart pump blood throughout the body more easily, enabling the organs and muscles work more efficiently.
Exercise and Stretch
When you work from home, it’s important to integrate an appropriate exercise routine into your day. The advantage of telework is that it eliminates the commute, freeing up extra time to walk, run or go to the gym. In addition, there’s more fitness content online than ever, so break up the day with a virtual stretching session, Pilates or yoga class.