Homeworking: how to minimise the harmful parts

Take a look at the photo above of the lady working from home above. Do you recognise that pose? She’s sitting on a dining chair with her neck stretched forwards and she’s looking down towards the laptop screen. Her back is hunched over, and her shoulders are rounded forward. She’s clearly not happy about something, but at least she has a cup of coffee…

The way our lady here is sitting is incredibly common for someone working at a computer. Whilst it’s alright to sit in such a position for a brief period, an estimated 40% of British employees are still working from home after anything up to six months following lockdown. So, it’s very possible that we could have been doing ourselves harm with our less than ideal working set ups.

First things first, be aware of how you work

If you’re sitting at a computer now – freeze! Don’t move a muscle and answer these questions.

Are you sitting up straight with your core muscles gently engaged?

Is your computer screen at the same height as your eyes?

Are your shoulders down and back?

If your hands are on the keyboard, is there a right angle at your elbow?

Are your feet roughly hip width apart and both flat on the floor?

If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no’ then there’s some room for improvement. The good news is that these are easy fixes to make when you are aware of them.

Things you may need to purchase to help you

If it looks like you may be continuing to work from home for the foreseeable future, the following suggestions are well worth considering:

Whether your work surface is a desk, dining table or kitchen island doesn’t really matter. What is important is your position at your work surface, so ditch the dining chair and get a chair that has an adjustable height. You need to be able to set your chair at your work surface, so that your arm is at a beautiful right angle to the worktop when you set your hand in position on the keyboard. If you are too high or too low it’s going to cause you shoulder issues or create pressure on your wrists.

If you mainly use a laptop, you should have a separate screen to ensure your eyes are looking forwards and you are not looking down at your laptop screen for hours on end. This will help your neck and spine lengthen.

You probably have had to have hundreds of phone calls during lockdown, but on how many of them have you used headphones? Headphone allow your hands to be free, and your posture to be natural. Holding phones to your ear, or (gasp) wedging them between your ear and shoulder are going to encourage your shoulders to tense up and rise.

Activities and exercises to help you

Burn some calories

Without your daily commute and getting up and down for meetings or a stroll to get your lunch, it’s likely that you are being more sedate when working from home. So, make time to be active. Anything is better than staying at your desk all day with no physical activity. Indulge yourself with something that will work for you and fit it in where appropriate to your schedule. An early morning walk or jog, a, a lunchtime exercise class or early evening bike ride or even a short burst of housework… The only rule: don’t feel guilty as this is essential for your health.

Open up your chest and shoulders

What you are aiming for here is to be in the opposite position to hunching over a PC. If you’ve been getting any upper back pain, this is especially important for you to do. Any of these suggestions will help so mix and match accordingly:

  • Shoulder rolls – shrug your shoulders up as high as you can then then, slowly roll them back and around. Gently elongate them to their maximum position in each direction. Repeat a few times then change direction to rolling them forwards. This can be done standing or sitting
  • Cat-Cow Stretch – you’ll need to get on your hands and knees for this one
  • Dumb waiter – this one is best done standing

Following this advice should help you maintain a healthy body when working from home, in particular your back, shoulders and neck. If you’d like any more advice or if you have a more troublesome issue please do get in touch with The Arch Clinic.