We are in lockdown and being urged, where possible, to work from home. I suspect for many of us this will present a significant adjustment. Perhaps you have an optimised working environment at your workplace – you may even have had a professional set up and bespoke seating. So it is important now that we resist the urge to slouch on the sofa with our laptops or stuff ourselves into a cramped space.
Here are our top 5 tips during this period of working from home. Do remember that we are available during this time for treatment and advice. Check out what physiotherapy provision we are offering during lockdown and the latest national recommendations for physio treatment.
1) Move, move, move.
We will talk about good posture for your workspace when working from home but that is quite literally the worse place to start. Even if you have the most expensive ergonomic chair, optimised monitor position and one of those fancy keyboards that looks like it came from a space ship – sitting all day is a really bad idea. We know that prolonged sitting is associated with significant health implications, a slower metabolism, stiffness and tightness in your spine and muscles, and reduced productivity. Research shows that it requires 60-75 minutes of moderately vigorous exercise to overcome a full day sitting at work.
Now that many of us are working from home, it is the ideal opportunity to reconsider our working habits. Here are some top tips to move more as part of your working day:
- set an alarm or timer as a reminder to move every 30 minutes. Just a short walk to grab a glass or water will help to rest your posture and activate all those essential postural muscles
- develop healthy habits, for example, stand up every time you answer the phone or squat 5 times every time you receive an email from a particular person
- make regular necessities a little more active, for example, use the upstairs toilet as opposed to the one next door, do some simple exercises (squats, lunges, back movements) while you are waiting for the kettle to boil, etc
Perhaps you have a pristine home office to work from or possibly, like me, the current lockdown has caught you out and you are fighting for space amidst the home-schooling and toys. If I step on one more piece of lego in bare feet… Your working environment is important – it needs to be comfortable and enable you to do a good job.
- It is beneficial to have boundaries between home space and work space. That way it doesn’t feel like you are always at work and vice versa
- Natural light and fresh air have been shown to boost productivity and well being. If you are involved in video calls, adequate light is important
- An extension cable is essential and will give you the freedom to set your desk up how and where you like
The text book answer with work place ergonomics is everything should be at perfect right angles to everything else. Neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists & hands, spine, pelvis, knees, feet all like an elaborate ‘jenga’ of small square boxes, one on top of the other. Add a chair with some lumbar support and you are almost hitting top marks. To be clear, there has been a lot of research into optimum ergonomics for an office environment and the attached picture is what you should be aiming for. Here are a few key things to get right to optimise your home office set up:
1) Monitor height. The chances are you are working from home on a laptop so to optimise your screen height you have 2 options. Either set up and external monitor or buy a laptop stand to raise the height of your screen – alternatively you could use some books. Note that if you go for the second (and more popular) option you will need a keyboard and a mouse.
2) Use a reasonable chair. If you don’t have an office chair at home, I suggest using a dining chair. Should you need more lumbar support consider placing and small cushion or preferably a rolled up towel in the small of your back. Should you want a tried and tested lumbar support, here at The Physios, we often recommend a lumbar roll. However, if you are experiencing back pain, there is lots physiotherapy can do to help – even remotely at these times of social distancing.
3) Be careful of ‘forward neck posture’ or ‘poking chin posture’. Ideally your ears should be in line with your collar bones when working at your desk. If your head/chin drifts forward of this position it can cause neck pain and headaches. Again do consult with your physiotherapist of you are experiencing neck pain or headaches.
4) Sit to stand desks
Sit to stand desks have become very popular with lots of larger employers investing in these for employees with a current or historic injury. The point however is not particularly about standing, it is about having a more active posture and more importantly varying your position (see the first point!). There are a few hacks to create a similar set up at home:
- If you are using a laptop, consider placing it on a high window ledge or bookcase for 10-15 minutes each hour. This can lend itself to less computer heavy tasks such as, making a phone call or reading emails.
- It is still sitting but sitting on a gym ball encourages an active posture. Lots of my patients with lower back pain have benefited from this. You cannot be lazy when sitting on a gym ball – otherwise you will fall off!
- Plan your daily tasks. As with the example above, consider tasks that are not as computer/desk dependent and get creative about how you do them.
Exercise is so important for our overall health and here’s the secret – exercise was important long before we heard about coronavirus. Now that our freedoms have been restricted, many are starting to reconsider their relationship with exercise and are being proactive to make the most if the daily allowance.
- Walking is accessible, beneficial and many of us can find a great walk from our doorsteps in the “outdoor city” of Sheffield. A general recommendation is 60 minutes moderate exercise so push your cardiovascular system a little. As a guide, walking should be effortful but you should be able to walk comfortably for a long time and certainly be able to hold a conversation while doing it.
- Perhaps you would like to use this time of social distancing to dig out your old running shoes or even try running for the very first time. Running guru, Jon Grayson, has developed a great resource for runners – Runners Hub. Be sure to check out his blog if you are considering running for the first time.
- Pilates is an excellent way to exercise, working on balance, flexibility and stability. Now is a great time to consider giving Pilates a go. Kate Mackintosh’s classes are highly popular and usually fully booked but she is now live streaming her classes for free. Do check her range of exercises to complete at home and sign up to our mailing list to receive the weekly invites to the online classes.