Here’s to working from home!…In less than ideal conditions. Body pain is one of the biggest complaints that go along with being permanently out-of-office.
Right, so. Working from home is definitely a thing now. Great! Pros include: Fewer meetings that could have been emails, no need to hotdesk, no more time spent on commuting.
Cons: No desk at all? (Also things like not being able to leave the house, etc.) Also, working from home when you haven’t set yourself up for it can do a number on your body. For lots of people, this “new normal” includes plenty of time working on a laptop. You might be jammed into the laundry room at a makeshift desk or at the kitchen table. Perhaps stuck on the couch with your computer precariously balanced on your knees?
This can quite literally be a pain in the neck.
You are probably well aware that being stuck at a desk all day is a sure-fire way to ramp up neck, shoulder, and upper back tension. This often leads to “knots” and muscle pain, and if left long enough, can give you chronic headaches. All that time spent sitting can also trigger lower back pain and stiffness – though office chairs don’t completely negate the effects of sitting on muscle tension. Most of the time we aren’t equipped with the normal office desk-chair-tech setups that make looking after your body a little easier, and even a few weeks into the pandemic lockdowns, it was starting to show.
I spend much of each working day with clients to help them decrease their muscle tension, improve their movement ability, and brainstorm ways to get their desk or workspace set up to make the best of a potentially painful situation. Regardless of whether you’re in the office, or in your “office” (kitchen), when it comes to looking after your body, the same rules apply: Give yourself as much physical support as you can, minimize distraction as much as you can, and take lots of short breaks!
Work from home without pain
Let’s get specific. Here are some of my top recommendations to help you work from home without pain:
Vary your chair. One of the joys of working from home is that you have a whole house full of furniture to use. Use them all. Varying the chair that you spend many hours in will mean that you are A) standing up/sitting down more often as you change seats and B) aren’t stuck in the exact same sitting position for as long as you’re doing the work.
Sit and stretch. You might be stuck sitting at a computer, but you can still stretch. By changing the positions of your legs and chair, you can find ways to stretch out while get stay productive. Some stretches might be harder to hold for any length of time, depending on how flexible you are. Don’t stress if you can’t hang onto it for long, but do try to hold each stretch for at least a minute. You’ll get better with practice! For some ideas that help combat the tension caused by sitting, check out this post about stretching.
Set yourself up. The office version of this means lifting your monitor to eye height, using either a deep desk or a chair with arms so that your elbows can rest on something, bringing your mouse closer to your body so you don’t have to reach far, and adjusting your seat so that your hips and knees rest at about 90degrees – which might also mean using a footstool. Our choices at home are often a lot more limited, but the same principles apply as much as they can.
Give yourself “space”. Sounds impossible? What you want to look for is some mental separation between “work” and “home”. This is helped by some physical separation. Ideally that means setting up your work-from-home work station in a different room, but that isn’t always possible. If you don’t have a room to spare, see if you can take your work outside to a porch, veranda, or balcony for the day. Or, set yourself up in whatever space you have, and when you’re done for the day, pack your work items away again so that your space goes back to normal. (No, that’s not ideal, but really, what is ideal right now?)
Sit and trigger point. There are lots of trigger point spots that you can work on while you’re sitting at the desk. Try a tennis ball, cricket ball, or big spikey ball under your hamstring (the back of your thigh), sitting with it under your glutes (your bum), or leaning back into your chair with the ball pinned behind you.
“Walk to work”. If you’re stuck working from home but still have the opportunity to get outside, stick to your before- and after-work routines as much as you can. Get up, get ready for work, and then go for a walk around the block to “commute” to work. This is a great way to get a little extra movement in, as well as giving you a chance to get your brain into work mode. Do the same at the end of the work day, so that when you get home, you can relax. You can also take a break from work for a lunchtime walk, just as you might do in the office. In either place, it helps break up the day and keeps you mentally fresh.
These are just some of a long list of ideas. What are you doing to keep yourself moving?