During this crisis you may find yourself searching for silver linings. Working from home may yield many such benefits. No commute, working in your pajamas (nothing like a dress shirt with sweatpants and slippers all day), quick access to a variety of snacks, etc. Granted, there are plenty of negatives about spending all day at home such as little to no breaks from your kids, cabin fever, lack of sports (a massively sore subject for many), and lots and lots of sitting. While we can’t control many of these new realities of our daily lives, we can take steps to help avoid the potential consequences of sitting all day.
Perfect Posture is a myth
Let’s get something out of the way quickly. There is no such thing as perfect posture. Right now, stop reading and assess your current posture. How is it? Slouched shoulders? Rounded low back? Now I know you have heard of the importance of keeping a straight back! Right, last question: are you comfortable? You are? Good, don’t change your posture…I’m completely serious. Evidence is clear that posture does NOT cause pain and sitting up straight will not eliminate it. What will? Movement – sweet, wonderful movement.
Our bodies are really resilient and adaptive, allowing them to withstand various postures. Seriously, don’t worry about how you are sitting, but rather for how long you’re sitting. Your spine is strong and can handle the loads of a “poor” posture just fine. In fact, our bodies can handle quite a bit and the mind is a remarkably powerful tool regarding pain.
Movement is key
This is the part where you give me a sideways glance and call BS thinking about the neck and back pain you get from sitting all day while working from home. And therein lies the key. It is not the way you sit but the fact that you are sitting . . . a lot. Without getting into the weeds of why we experience pain (this post would be much longer if we tried to tackle that), research consistently tells us that it’s more complex than simple mechanical damage. Instead of focusing on setting up your desk in the perfect position so you have everything at a 90-degree angle, focus on moving. Yes, you can find different positions that are more comfortable than others, but they won’t last. Finding variety in your day can help significantly more with pain, energy, focus, and overall satisfaction with your work.
Here are some specific strategies:
Take a break from work. Stand up and move at least 5 minutes every hour.
Change your working position. This could include altering your chair height, standing when reading reports, or going on walks in the neighborhood or around the house during a call.
Get enough sleep.A good measure of how much you need is waking up on your own. Yes, without an alarm clock. This also means getting up when you first wake and not snoozing 12 times. Also, ensuring you obtain good sleep quality can significantly impact your irritability. Good sleep strategies include avoiding screens 1-2 hours before bed, avoiding caffeine 6 hours before bed, going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, only using your bed for sleep and keeping the room dark and quiet (i.e. no TV in the bedroom).
In summary, addressing back and neck pain is not a simple posture fix, but it is a simple fix. Exercise and activity are vital for a healthy lifestyle and they can be a difference maker while working from home. There are many ways to increase your activity and make it enjoyable. You just need to find what works best for you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Zach Walston, PT, DPT, OCS is the National Director of Quality and Research at PT Solutions. Zach grew up in Northern Virginia and earned his Bachelor of Science in Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He then received his Doctorate of Physical Therapy from Emory University before graduating from the PT Solutions’ Orthopaedic Residency Program in 2015. Zach now serves as the Residency Program Coordinator and the Director of the practice’s Clinical Mentorship Program providing training for over 100 physical therapists a year. Zach currently lives in Marietta, GA with his wife, son, and two dogs.