We’re living in unprecedented times.
As the country, and particularly London, prepares to go into lockdown in an attempt to contain the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19), the virtually deserted scenes outside many of our windows may feel a little apocalyptic.
But while office doors may be temporarily closed, behind the sealed doors of homes and flats around the capital and beyond, an army of people are using remote technology to keep GB Limited running.
If you’re one of the many thousands of people who have now either been told or have chosen to work at home in order to reduce the risk of infection, it’s important to do what you can to maintain musculoskeletal health.
Poor posture, a badly arranged workspace and the lack of opportunity to exercise – even if it’s just to walk to the office kitchen to make a brew – are all co-conspirators when it comes to muscle and joint pain that can become debilitating if left unaddressed.
While we relish the challenge of helping clients, we want everyone to reduce their chance of pain or injury during lockdown so our team of physiotherapists and osteopaths have collated their tips for keeping yourself in good shape while you’re working from your kitchen table.
In order to safeguard against problems that poor working practices can bring, it’s important to understand and recognise how you usually work so you can replace bad habits with good ones.
Unless you’re very health and body-fit conscious anyway, the largely sedentary existence of an office-based job almost certainly means you’ve fallen into some bad practices. So, before you do anything else, just spend some time becoming aware of what your back, feet, neck and arms are doing while you work.
Do you hunch over your screen? Are your legs tucked under your chair and crossed at the ankles? When you’re on the phone, do you tuck the handset between your ear and shoulder, so your hands are free to type or write notes? And does the height of your kitchen table or desk mean your wrists are angled up in order to use your computer keyboard?
If you answered yes to one or more of those, then you’ve got some work to do, because if you’re not already experiencing some regular or persistent musculoskeletal pain or discomfort, there’s a good chance it’s going to be part of your future.
So, here’s our checklist of things to work on.
Posture is everything. To take the strain off your muscles and joints, you should make sure your posture is correct.
Here are the corrections you should make to ensure good posture:
If you work from home regularly, it’s worth investing in a good quality chair that has an adjustable backrest and seat height.
A badly positioned computer does more damage to your posture than you can possibly imagine, so give your body a break by adjusting it in such a way to encourage better habits.
If you have to raise or lower your head or twist in your chair to see the centre of your computer screen, then you have a problem and need to make some changes.
To be in the correct position to help you achieve good posture screen height should be such that the centre of the monitor is at the same level as the tip of your nose. This makes it easier to keep your head level and square to your shoulders.
If you can, raise or lower the height of your chair to achieve an optimum screen position. If you can’t adjust things so your screen is correctly positioned and you work from home regularly, consider investing in a second screen and laptop docking station.
Taking exercise doesn’t have to mean a half-hour run around Regents Park. The simple act of moving is good for dispersing physical stress and tension, so taking regular screen breaks – 5 minutes for every hour worked is the recommended minimum – and walking around the garden or the house relieves pressure on your muscles and joints and raises your heart rate, encouraging oxygenation of the circulatory system.
Regular screen breaks also minimise the risk of headaches or migraines.
And if moving around for exercise is tricky, at least try to stand when you can – for example, if you’re on the phone and don’t need to see your screen.
Don’t put the phone in the crook of your neck when you’re using it – that’s a fast route to chronic neck pain. Hold the phone normally in one hand and, if you need to make notes, write them down with a pen rather than trying to type them.
If you need to enter data directly onto a computer while you’re on the phone – for example, filling out a spreadsheet – put the phone on speaker mode so you’re hands-free.
And on the subject of phones, when you’re on a break, take a break from the phone as well. Staring down at your phone to check your Twitter feed or play Candy Crush puts unnecessary pressure on our necks and shoulders.
So even if you make a deal with yourself to only look at your phone once in the morning, at lunchtime and once in the afternoon, it’s better than constantly looking at the small screen in your hand every free moment you get.
Whether you have a sedentary job or a manual role, the advice is the same: if you’re bending to pick something up, however heavy or light, bend at the knees, not at the waist. Your back will thank you for it in the long run.
Hopefully, these handy hints will keep you fit and pain-free while we all find our own way of getting through the current crisis. Everyone at West 1 Physio and Pilates wishes you safe passage through whatever challenges coronavirus throws at you, and we look forward to seeing you again in person soon.
If you’d like to speak to us about our physiotherapy and rehabilitation services – or if you have an injury and you’d like to find out more about how we can help with your recovery, please get in touch.