6 Ways to Make Sure Working From Home Doesn't Kill Your Back
Working from home for the foreseeable future? You aren’t alone. While we love the shorter commute and casual wardrobe, working from home is not without its challenges, like finding a work space that is both comfortable and ergonomically correct.
Sitting for hours can impact your posture and even cause neck and back pain. But with a few simple adjustments and habits, you can set up a space to work from home without killing your back.
1. Move around.
Working from home means you can move around more freely, so use that to your advantage. A study published in June 2020 in the journal Safety and Health at Work found that our muscles start to fatigue after 40 minutes in the same position, but a 10-minute break can offer relief.
Set a timer in your phone to remind you to get up and change positions, and find creative ways to stay active throughout the day. Stretch between tasks, pace while talking on the phone, or stand up while you read emails.
Frequency of movement is actually more important than having “perfect” posture, says Heather Christain, DPT, an instructor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and a physical therapist at Rally Physical Therapy. “Studies have now found that there is no one perfect posture.”
2. Make your ‘commute’ count.
While your commute now only takes seconds, that may mean fewer steps and less activity, like walking to the subway or from the parking lot. Plus, we’re not taking those walks during the day to meetings or to lunch with co-workers. A sedentary lifestyle can be a significant cause of back pain.
The solution? Use the time you would spend commuting to take a walk or work out, for the sake of your back and overall health.
“When you work from home you have that deficit of activity,” says Lindsey Hanna, a physical therapist at Fyzical Therapy and Balance Center in Chicago. “This can impact so much, from your heart wellness to your metabolism to your mental health.”
3. Set up your workspace properly.
Working from the couch (or bed!) sounds fun, but it’s not great for your back. Even in a tiny studio apartment, it’s important to find space for a set-up that’s as ergonomic as possible. Try these tips.
- If you can, use an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Laptops are convenient but not designed for long-term comfort.
- Choose a chair with low-back support, that allows your feet to rest flat on the floor.
- Keep your head directly above your neck, even if that means adjusting your monitor.
- Support your elbows, preferably so they’re bent slightly more than 90 degrees, says Hanna.
- At the same time, make sure your shoulders are relaxed (and not scrunched up).
4. Use tech to your advantage.
Technology has its flaws for sure, but it can also make remote work much more comfortable. Use it to your advantage as you set up your home office.
- Need a reason to justify buying new AirPods? Using a hands-free device for phone calls will save your neck. If you don’t have headphones handy or don’t like them, use speaker phone. Just don’t try to wedge your phone between your ear and shoulder.
- Feeling fatigued or tired of typing? Save your back, wrists, and arms with the voice dictation option on your phone. Use “talk to type” to send emails, draft memos, and craft text messages, maybe even while you stretch or pace.
5. Stretch it out.
6. Try standing.
Standing desks are a great way to stay active while you work, but they can still lead to back pain or discomfort.
“People still slouch when tired, even with a standing desk,” says Christain. And, slouching while you stand is just as bad for you as when you sit.
If you’re new to standing while you work, start with one 40-minute session, then go back to sitting. Slowly build up your tolerance for standing, and if you find yourself getting tired, take a break or have a seat. Christain suggests getting a standing desk that can convert to a seated one.