Working from home used to feel like a snow day. Rare, but when you had a chance to sit in the comfort of your house, it was a treat. Since the pandemic, more people are now enjoying a home office — either full-time or on a hybrid schedule.
But sometimes the comfort of home isn’t the best for working. It can cause aches and pains you didn’t notice before. Prolonged sitting at a computer increases your risk of musculoskeletal and nerve pain. Physical therapist Stacy Hite explains why working from home is causing issues and how to prevent injuries.
Prolonged Sitting Is the Culprit
Believe it or not, there’s a healthy value to in-office socializing. Not only because of the emotional interactions and connections, but we move more in an office. Hite explains that you’re walking down a longer hallway to the bathroom, taking paperwork to a coworker, and going from meeting to meeting. Those little movements throughout the day add up.
Those using dining room chairs or makeshift office desks don’t position the body properly for using a computer. You begin to reach awkwardly or look down, which puts strain on the neck and shoulders. This pain can radiate down the arms and compress nerves in the hands. A slumped posture, like on a couch or bed, can lead to muscle spasms and pain throughout the body.
But just shopping for ergonomic desks isn’t the answer. A good workstation is only a small part of the solution. It’s what we do throughout the day to take care of our bodies that will make a difference. “I encourage my patients to take ‘movement snacks’ throughout the day,” Hite shares.
These could include simple tasks such as:
- Spreading your fingers wide
- Straightening the elbows and pump the wrists up and down
- Squeezing the shoulder blades together to open the chest
- Rolling the neck and shoulders
Working From Home With a Happy Body
While working, Hite explains, we’re using the intellectual part of our brain, making it easy to ignore the pain until it becomes worse. It doesn’t help that we live in a culture where working through lunch, as well as discomfort, is rewarded and common. She stresses that we can’t expect our bodies to perform in this manner. Just as cars need oil changes, our joints, muscles, and nerves need movement and oxygen to function.
You may think you’re breathing. But when we’re on our computers or phones, we’re breathing shallower and don’t exhale completely. This is now called “email apnea.” Hite says this pattern of improper breathing can cause:
Struggling with Pain?
Physical therapy can help you if you continue to experience aches and pain while working from home.
- Muscle stiffness
- Poor concentration
- Tingling sensation
A healthy breath looks like: a slow, steady inhale through the nose for 3 seconds, followed by a complete exhale through pursed lips for 6 seconds.
Pain That Won’t Go Away
If you’re experiencing numbness in your hands or pain that keeps you from sleeping or daily activity, Hite recommends seeing your provider. You might be referred to physical or occupational therapy to help you improve these symptoms and learn the proper way to care for your body.
Prevention and treatment look similar — move more, breathe better, and be aware of your body.
Ways to Restore Your Body
Here’s how to keep your body happy while working from home.
Did You Know?Humming soothes the nervous system and enhances oxygen intake.
- Work outside - Being in nature can help with a sense of contentment
- Take a walk or dance in your kitchen
- Do breathing exercises
- Sing or hum
- Do a quick body scan and see if you can find sore spots
- Stay hydrated
- Look away from your computer screen every 20 minutes for 20 seconds