More than six months have passed since the COVID-19 pandemic first swept through the United States, sparking a nationwide push to work from home. At first, the change seemed temporary. Working from the couch, the bed or the kitchen table was meant to be a stopgap before returning to our ergonomic workstation at the company office.
But now, as we look ahead at a winter spent hunkering down at home, working from the couch fulltime is no longer feasible. And, for many, it’s getting hard to ignore the discomfort stemming from a poor work-from-home ergonomics setup. Chiropractors across the country have reported a notable increase in reports of back, neck, wrist and shoulder injuries and pain from patients as months of hunching over a laptop have taken their toll.
Working From Home Can Be a Pain in the (Text) Neck
One issue in particular – text neck, or tech neck – has been a concern for chiropractors since texting and scrolling on smartphones, tablets and other devices became commonplace. Text neck can be a frequent source of pain for people cooped up and working from home.
“While texting or browsing the internet, the head is placed in a downward position, and for some avid users, it’s often hours at a time,” explains Dr. Nesly Clerge, DC, CME, a chiropractor based in the Washington, D.C. area (find him at @painrehabdc on Instagram). “Head weight can increase from 20 to 60 pounds depending on the angle, and this creates massive stress on the cervical spine (neck), thoracic spine (upper back) and shoulders.”
New Jersey-based chiropractor Anthony Porta, DC (find him at @hoboken_spine on Instagram) adds text neck “can lead to permanent C spine damage and kyphosis later in life, as well as pain which can radiate down the arms.”
Text neck symptoms include neck pain, upper back pain, muscle strain, stiffness, soreness, reduced mobility and headaches, according to Clerge. It can also affect the nerves and lead to a condition called cervical radiculopathy, a shock-like, tingling and radiating sensation into the neck and shoulders.
The forward head posture that defines text neck can also cause misalignment of the spine, leading to some of the aforementioned symptoms, Clerge says.
So, what’s a remote work employee to do to ward off text neck and other work-from-home injuries, and every ache and pain in between? We have rounded up the best work from home tips from chiropractors to help you set up your ergonomic home office and add more activity in your day, keys to preventing work from home injuries and discomfort.
Create a Dedicated Home Office Ergonomics Space
You’re not doing your body any favors by working from the couch or the bed, which usually translates to operating in a slumped or slouched position for too long. Choose an area that you can dedicate as a home office space. Then get your work ergonomics in order with these tips for working from home effectively.
Applying office ergonomics at home can help prevent discomfort by maintaining your spine’s natural curves to avoid text neck and other posture issues. Wisconsin-based chiropractor Dr. Kevin E. Ritzenthaler, DC, DCBN, shares some guidance for setting up an ergonomic home office:
- Keep computer screens at eye level.
- Use a chair with back support, or “perch” on a stool.
- When sitting or standing, make sure forearms are parallel to the floor. When sitting, ensure thighs are also parallel to the floor.
If you deal with existing back pain, the staff at County Line Chiropractic Medical & Rehab Centers in Florida says, “Consider a standing desk and a high stool for greater comfort. Also, if you can, invest in a separate keyboard which can be placed at elbow height so your screen can be placed in front of your eyes.”
Maintain Good Posture for Ergonomic Health
To make the most of your space set up for work-from-home ergonomics success, focus on maintaining good posture throughout your work day. This will help keep the spine aligned and stop your head from leaning forward or down and causing text neck issues.
The staff at Muir Orthopaedic Specialists in the San Francisco Bay Area share these work-from-home tips to maintain good posture:
- Pretend someone is above you pulling a string from the top of your head – a good visual to help keep your head up and shoulders back.
- When working at a desk, place a rolled-up towel behind your lower back to naturally guide your body to better posture.
Slouching is a hard habit to break, but these tips for working from home effectively can help you sit up straight and ward off back and neck pain.
Take Breaks to Move and Stretch
Chiropractor tips for working from home effectively include taking breaks! The experts at Arizona-based Goodyear Chiropractic (find them at @goodyearchiropractic on Instagram) have this to say:
“Working from home? Remember to give yourself small breaks. It is not wise to continue working at the computer for hours at a time. It’s best to work in smaller segments, getting a task or two completed before taking a break.”
During that break, focus on adding movement to your work-from-home routine. After all, you’re no longer walking from the parking lot to the office or down the hall to attend a meeting. Taking breaks and fitting in some light movement will help stave off the aches and stiffness that may lead to work-from-home injuries.
While you’re at it, don’t forget to stretch. You can do simple stretches right at your desk to keep your spine aligned throughout the work day. The staff at Denver-based Reinhardt Chiropractic & Wellness suggest completing a simple stretch each hour of the work day, like an office chair hip stretch or a lower spinal stretch.
Work From Home Tips Apply to Remote Learners, Too
Clerge reminds parents that with the significant increase in cyber-learning, it’s important to monitor and pay special attention to children’s posture during e-learning courses. Be sure to remind kids to take breaks to stretch and decrease muscle tension.
Keeping these tips for working from home from home effectively in mind can help you and all your household members working or learning remotely avoid text neck and other work-from-home injuries.
If you do head back to the workplace – or if you never left – review our guide on how to manage chronic pain at work.