From bed to laptop to couch: How to help your body survive working from home

Working from home without a good workstation is leading to more spinal pain, experts say.

Working from home without a good workstation is leading to more spinal pain, say experts

Kim Jory

CBC News Hamilton

2 months ago
Trainer Kim Jory with lower back tips 0:37

For much of the past year, many of us have been in a constant rotation between our beds, our makeshift workspaces, and our couches; and some of us are working right from the bed or couch. It may seem cozy in the moment, but it's doing a number on our bodies, say some experts.

"Most people who are working from home are finding any flat surface they can put their computer on and working," says chiropractor Ashor Sworesho, of Hamilton Chiropractic and Wellness. "Sometimes it's their own laps, and the worst is the people who are in bed with their laptop on their chest and working away."

Sworesho says he and his colleagues at the clinic have seen an increase in patients with upper back, mid-back and neck pain issues. 

Kim Jory, fitness manager at Goodlife Fitness's Bunting Road location in St. Catharines, says she's also seeing lower-back pain and tight hip flexors in her work-from-home clients.

"Our chairs are trying to kill us if we're not careful," says Jory. "Human beings were made to move. We were not meant to sit in a static position."

Kim Jory

CBC News Hamilton

2 months ago
Trainer Kim Jory with a quick at-home exercise 0:38

'We take for granted those little moments'

There are some subtle differences between working from home and working at a desk in an office that can have big effects over time. 

"If you were working in a building, you'd get up to go to the watercooler, to go to the printer. You'd be moving more than we are now," Jory says, pointing out the movement involved in going out for lunch or commuting, even if it's just walking to and from the car. "I think we take for granted those little moments in the day, and they compound over time."
Kim Jory says lower-back pain is a common problem for people working from home during the pandemic. (Kim Jory)
Sworesho says many of his clinic's clients were unsure how long the pandemic and its associated work-from-home provisions would last, so they didn't invest in the equipment required to have an ergonomic workstation. "They weren't sure if they should invest the money in a nice table, a nice chair and an actual space dedicated to work in the house, or if this is only going to be a couple months."
Ashor Sworesho of Hamilton Chiropractic and Wellness. (Hamilton Chiropractic and Wellness)

At your desk

In addition to building an ergonomic workspace — where one's monitor is at eye level, arms bend at a right angle to reach the keyboard and feet are flat on the floor — there are other ways to reduce damage to the body while working.

Jory recommends sitting at the back of the chair, using its back support, while also aiming to engage the core at between 10 and 20 per cent if its maximum to help maintain good posture. The head should be aligned over the neck and shoulders, not jutting forward as often happens when we stare at a screen, she says. 

"Every inch your head moves forward, you are adding 10 pounds (of load on your neck)," she says, recommending taking breaks to consciously make a double-chin in order to "set your head back to where it's supposed to be."

Getting up regularly is key, and Jory recommends forcing the issue by placing important items such as one's water bottle or cellphone far enough away that you have to get up to get them. She also suggests small bouts of stretching and exercise, and provided some videos of suggested mid-day exercise that are included in this article.

Sworesho also recommends moving between workstations if you have the option, whether that's between two desks, or from sitting to standing. "There is a posture that is more conducive to less aches and pains, but even in that posture, if we sit in it for a couple hours, it will cause problems. The best posture is the next posture."


2 months ago
20210310_113429_001 0:48

In the gym

Over the long term, Sworesho recommends exercises that target the rhomboids, muscles between the shoulder blades; the levator scapulae, which attaches the neck to the shoulder blades; and the muscles between the neck and the skull. The aim, he says, is to strengthen the back of the body so it doesn't droop forward, out of alignment.

The goal when building strength in these areas, he says, is endurance over intensity.

Both experts suggest core work — planks, for example — and Jory also recommends working on the gluteus maximus: in other words, the butt.

"When you're sitting on those tissues, they get deactivated."

Kim Jory

CBC News Hamilton

2 months ago
Kim Jory shows a quick at-home exercise 0:40


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