‘Gradual and insidious’: Working from home becoming a real pain in the neck for some


If you’re working from home and reading this, chances are you’re not doing it right.

Twenty months into the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home has become the norm for many people, and crashing Zoom calls isn’t the only pain they’re dealing with.

Calgary physiotherapist and clinic director at Lifemark Physiotherapy Aspen, Jonathan Reimer told Global News he’s seeing a lot more patients with posture-related injuries. He attributed that to poor home office working conditions and a lack of proper ergonomics.

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“We were always seeing a number of neck and low back injuries related to prolonged office work. But what we’re seeing now is an increase in numbers of those types of injuries,” he said.

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“What we’re often hearing is stories like people are working from a recliner, or with a laptop or tablet computer, or people are working at their kitchen table with just a regular chair pulled up to the kitchen table.”

Reimer said if you’re using a laptop that’s not at the ideal height ergonomically, then you’re likely tilting your head forward and putting a lot of pressure on the base of your neck.

“The problem with posture is very gradual and insidious. You don’t know that you’re having problems until you kind of reach this tipping point. And all of a sudden pain and dysfunction will present, but it’s been a long time in the making.”

He said poor postural alignment puts a lot of stress on the discs in the neck and in the low back and if those discs fail and herniate they can create a significant nerve impingement, which can take months to heal.

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“We can be dealing with half a year to a year for recovery. And plus, it’s very uncomfortable, and it will disrupt your sleep, your recreational activity, your activity of daily living, it’s a very uncomfortable scenario to be in.”

Get up and move

Reimer said one big thing that’s missing for many at-home office workers is regular movement.

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“A lot of people describe the scenario that in their workplace they were up and away from their desk to the photocopier, to talk with other colleagues. That’s just not happening as they’re spending hours in a stationary position and not generally being aware of their posture,” he said.

He suggested working movement breaks into your workday every 30 minutes or so, along with a few other steps to prevent pain and injuries:

  • Use a proper office chair. If it doesn’t have great lumbar support, prop up your lower back with a small pillow or rolled-up towel.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor with your knees bent to about 90 degrees.
  • Prop up your laptop to keep your head and eyes look straight ahead, instead of down.
  • Work some exercises into your day, like chin tucks, neck stretches and pelvic tilts.

Reimer says as more companies move toward making working from home the standard post-pandemic, people should consider proper office set-ups.

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“If your company’s amenable, it’s not a bad idea to discuss with them whether or not you can have a workplace ergonomic assessment. Many companies are investing in ergonomic assessments within their workplace, but now, if the home’s becoming the new workplace that might be a good thing to see if the company’s agreeable to doing that.”

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Ergonomic solutions

“Uncomfortable” is a common word customers use to describe their home office setup when they show up at Source Office Furnishings, according to director of sales James Sheppard.

He said they’re seeing an uptick in sales of ergonomic home office furniture since the start of the pandemic.

“Prior to the pandemic, a lot of our business involved working with corporate or head offices. Now, we frequently work directly with customers on their home offices,” he says.

“We’re seeing new customers who’ve never shopped with us before – or who haven’t shopped for a home office at all – which is exciting because we can introduce them to all the customization and personalization available to them.”

Ergonomic options are available for those working from home.

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Sheppard says chairs are one of the main pieces customers are looking for, along with height-adjustable desks. But the customizable options are endless, with accessories such as keyboard trays as well as accessories to manage technology and monitor arms so you can position your tools exactly how you need them.

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Sheppard echoes Reimer’s advice to take breaks and move throughout the day, but also adds it’s important to disconnect at the end of your workday.

“Sometimes we spend our personal computer time and work time in the same space, so it’s important to have a routine or trigger to take yourself off work mode and enjoy the rest of your day.”

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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