After several weeks of lockdown, working from home without a proper desk and the lack of movement can impact our posture and cause back and neck pain. We asked physiotherapist Patrick Roberts to provide useful tips on how to take care of our bodies and our employees while working from home.
1. Best practices when working remotely
What are the best practices for working from home when it comes to physical health? What is the best posture to adopt when working at home during the day?
Best practice would be to have a dedicated workstation/office place at home, with an appropriate ergonomic setup. Ideally using a screen that is positioned as such that the users eyes are in line with the top third of the screen, where the backrest of the chair is upright and perpendicular to the seat pan, and where the keyboard and mouse are in close proximity, so that the user is not overreaching, this will enable a suitable postural setup whilst seated. If possible, working in standing is another option, however the individual would require a suitable counter/desk where the screen can be positioned appropriately (with the users eyes aligned with the top third of the screen). However, having poor posture is not an indicator of musculoskeletal pain (that affects the muscles, ligaments and tendons, and bones), what is most important is maintaining activity levels whilst working from home. It is important to take regular breaks from sitting at a desk every 30-45 minutes.
What would you recommend to people at home who don’t necessarily have a proper desk or chair like in a normal office?
Try to replicate a workstation in the home environment, as it would be in the workplace. Use a dining room table and chair to enable a more suitable ergonomic setup at home. Work in standing if possible. Avoid working in bed or lying on a sofa.
How do you think employers can support their employees in an efficient and effective way to stay fit?
Promote daily outdoor exercise that coincides with the government advice during lockdown. Perform home-based exercise through interactive webinars/video calls led by a personal trainer or healthcare professional.
2. Examples of postural exercises
What can you do in terms of back, shoulders and neck pain?
There are endless exercises that can be performed in sitting, in standing, or whilst lying down. No equipment is required. Here are a few that can be performed in the home environment:
- knee rolls/back rotations
- gluteal/shoulder bridging
- thoracic rotations in squatting position/in side lying
- prone swimmers for shoulders/upper back/neck
- desk-based back stretches
- desk based active range of motion exercises for the shoulders and neck.
What are the best and easiest exercises to stay active regularly at home while not spending too much money on equipment?
Body weight exercises that require no equipment:
- jogging on spot/skipping
- lunges press ups
- sit ups
- plank exercises
- star jumps
- mountain climbers
- squat thrusts
Other forms of exercise that do not require equipment such as pilates and yoga will also be beneficial.
Physical health changes
How will working from home impact people’s physical health?
In general, working from home will reduce people's activity levels. This includes commuting and activity levels while in the workplace. With that said, a reduction in the level and frequency of activity will have a detrimental impact on one's physical and mental health.
In your experience, are people exercising more or less than before lockdown started?
Overall, people are exercising less. However from a physiotherapy perspective, I have noticed the type of exercises that people are performing has changed. We are seeing a lot more people taking up running – people who would not ordinarily run. Subsequently we are seeing more lower limb, running related musculoskeletal pain and injuries.
Does diet impact physical health when at home 24/7? What are your recommendations?
Diet and nutritional consumption advice and guidance would be more appropriate for a dietician. However the short answer would be yes. If you consume more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. If you are performing less exercise than you normally do, and eating the same amount, then there will be some impact on health. Try to maintain a daily exercise routine and be mindful of the caloric intake to match that of the activity/exercise output.
Patrick Roberts is a first contact physiotherapist at health service provider Babylon