As we begin 2021 in National Lockdown, many of us will once again be working from home (and some of us never made it back to the office!). Working from home is not ideal for many of us and can lead to real physical pain if our work set ups are not ergonomically sound.
As a timely reminder of some of the strategies that you can put into place, we spoke to Nichola Adams, MSc Health Ergonomics and Founder of Inspired Ergonomics. Pre-COVID Nichola spent most of her time touring the UK advising employers and individual employees about back health.
She has advised more than 3,000 individuals and hundreds of companies globally. So, she is the perfect person to provide some practical tips!
“Often it’s the little things that can have the biggest effect on back pain,” begins Nichola. “The key is to set everything up so that your back is supported in a healthy upright posture, reducing pain and tension build up and leaving you free to concentrate on your work rather than being distracted by discomfort. After all there is enough to distract us when working from home”.
Nichola reports seeing a big increase in back issues, caused from poor posture and less regular movement through the day. 9 out of 10 employees she speaks to have at least one area of pain they are struggling with, and yet often simple adjustments can make a huge difference.
According to Nichola, the most common issues she sees are:
- The screen being too low or incorrectly placed, causing you to slouch down or twist to read the screen (causing neck, shoulder and back issues, as well as headaches).
- The table is too high for your arms (normally a dining table) so you have to raise your arms up, potentially causing tension in the neck, shoulders and wrists).
- Sitting on hard chairs that are too low for the table and have no support for your lower back, causing discomfort in the lower back and making difficult to sit for too long.
Drawing on her experience of delivering homeworker assessments since lockdown 1.0, Nichola has written some guidelines for us to share with the Lone Worker Safety Live community:
5 key ways to prevent postural related pain and look after your back for good
Slouching puts pressure on the discs by compacting the space around them and will stretch and weaken the muscles over time. Instead sit up tall, resting against your backrest, and you will instantly feel better and oxygen will be able to reach your brain again.
Raise your screen.
This is one of the easiest ways to reduce neck, shoulder and lower back pain. If you raise your screen up to eye level you will subtly encourage yourself not to slouch. With a laptop, raise it up and use a separate keyboard and mouse, otherwise you will just be extending your arms and wrists upwards, which will cause a whole new set of issues.
Support your back.
If you adjust your chair to support your lower back, you will be encouraged to sit up and straight, using the backrest for support. If you have a lumbar support, see if you can adjust it to fit into the curve of your back. If it is just a standard chair, like a dining chair, consider buying an inflatable lumbar support you can use with it. Otherwise, a cushion or rolled up towel in your lower back curve can help.
Use the armrests
There was a time when physiotherapists would recommend not using armrests. However, as long as you have height adjustable armrests, these are really key in encouraging you to sit up, with your arms supported in line with the desk and reducing tension build up in our shoulders and neck. Just bring your chair close to the front of the desk and ensure your shoulders can relax on to them. You can adjust the chair height to further ensure the armrests are in the right position.
If you don’t have armrests, it is really important to ensure you are sitting with your arms in line with the table, so your shoulders can relax. So consider putting cushions on the seat if you are sitting too low for this to be the case, or try a different chair/table combination.
The key is to moving regularly, taking time to exercise as well as taking standing breaks through the day is crucial for keeping your back healthy as well as for general wellbeing. Aim for at least a minutes standing break every 20-40 minutes, the more the better. During lockdown, I would always recommend trying to take your daily exercise in the morning, mimicking your commute, before 11am, as this helps set your circadian rhythm.
Nichola is currently offering bespoke one to one advice remotely (via Zoom) as well as online workshops for companies. These include a series of practical expert tips and advice on how you can improve your desk set-up at home, tailored around your own pain or discomfort issues and adapting existing equipment where possible. The one to one “Workstation Assessments” usually lasts about 30 minutes or more.
So, before you start struggling with headaches, neck or shoulder pain, RSI symptoms, sciatica and disc issues, take a few minutes to check your own set up. You can find more information on Nichola’s remote homeworker assessments or online workshops, at www.inspiredergonomics.com or email Nichola at firstname.lastname@example.org
We hope this advice is useful to you. Keep coming back to our news pages for more articles from experts who are working with Lone Worker Safety Live to keep you all safe and well.