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Proper ergonomics and movement can help you stay healthy while working from home

Consider these “working from home” tips from Lake Country Physiotherapy to help you avoid pain and remain productive
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"if you have bad posture and a bad set up at your workstation and you’re going to be there for awhile, that’s going to be injuries waiting to happen: Neck and shoulder pain, back pain, it’s just a matter of time.”

Since the pandemic, many people transitioned to working from home full-time. Prior to that, they may have worked from home occasionally, but not eight hours a day, five days a week, at their home office. 

Orillia Physiotherapist Rob Gordon, co-owner of Lake Country Physiotherapy along with his wife Lee, said pandemic restrictions mean ergonomic assessments are not being done, and with people working from home indefinitely, it’s important to take care of yourself by implementing preventative measures to reduce joint and muscle pain and prevent injury.

An ergonomic assessment looks at things such as the location of where you’re working, the lighting, and could include furniture pieces to assist with posture and comfort. “It’s to determine the physical layout of their workspace, you’re trying to design it for maximum efficiency and comfort,” said Gordon, “basically you’re looking at optimizing design to achieve the best possible performance.” 

Gordon explains there are two main risk factors: the sheer amount of time that’s being spent at the work station, and repetition. He explains that if you’re only spending a short amount of time at a less than optimal work station, your body can handle it. However, the reality is that people are spending eight to 10 hours a day which can become problematic.

“With the awkward posture and repetition, which is time spent at your desk, if you have bad posture and a bad set up at your workstation and you’re going to be there for awhile, that’s going to be injuries waiting to happen: Neck and shoulder pain, back pain, it’s just a matter of time.”

Tips that anyone can implement to prevent neck, shoulder pain and lower back pain

The rule of 20’s: For every 20 minutes that you’re in front of a screen, look at something that’s at least 20 feet away so you’re not just focussing on your screen close up.  “You can look out of a window…if you have a hallway you can look down for 20 seconds, every 20 minutes and stand up while you do it, get up out of your chair for at least 20 seconds, every 20 minutes,” he said.

Gordon explains, this gives you a chance to move back into full extension, lubricates your joints, and helps wake up your nervous system. “Frequent breaks are more important than going for three hours and then having to work for another four with no breaks -- you’re much better off going for small breaks more frequently than big breaks occasionally.”

This also helps to avoid eye strain that can contribute to neck pain. “Your neck posture will adapt for the eye strain and then that affects everything all the way down,” he said.

Change positions throughout the day

Changing positions, not just having good posture, is also important. “There is this sort of myth that ergonomics is we’re going to make you a work station that is optimally designed and then you can sit perfectly in that one fixed position all day, it’s not a good plan because,” he said.

If you don’t have a dedicated work space, Gordon said it’s okay, just ensure you move to different places with different lighting and in different positions, throughout the day. This could mean working at the kitchen table, then the dining room table, then the backyard, as long as its varied. Posture and movement is important, the “perfect furniture” is secondary.

“We are designed to move, not sit at a desk all day,” he said. Citing the example that hunter-gatherers would walk many kilometres a day. “It was a huge varied load of tasks that saw the body doing different things everyday,” Gordon said, “we weren’t in the same place very long, and we were always doing different tasks, that’s what our bodies were designed to do.”

Self-care means different things for different people but it is important for everyone

“It’s important that you’re not just taking those breaks but that you’re also getting some scheduled activity or exercise at some point in that day,” Gordon said. This could be a walk, a hike, or a swim for some, and for others it could mean doing yoga or doing some simple stretches. 

Gordon said the best thing you can do is listen to your body, and remember that if you want to feel well and maintain work productivity, do activities you enjoy that rejuvenate both your mind and your body.

Lake Country Physiotherapy treats a variety of conditions and their clinic is open. If you’d like to book an appointment or have any questions, contact them at 705-327-7876 or email info@lakecoutryphysio.com to sign up for their newsletter.