Have 2020 and the pandemic taught you a new appreciation for back pain? Are you ending your home-based work days fighting off aches and spasms that weren’t there in the good old days of working in the office? If so, you’re not alone. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced droves of workers to set up shop at home. More than 32 million Americans reported in November 2020 that they were working remotely because of the virus, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Undoubtedly, many of those displaced workers looked upon their comfy couches as perfectly good places to spend workdays — without realizing the importance of a well-designed workspace. Hours, days, weeks and months of sitting in poor positions can take a toll on your body — particularly the back — leading to a spiral of discomfort and possibly, the need for physical therapy.
Lumbar Support Is Key
One of the hallmarks of a well-designed workstation is the position of the screen relative to your eyes. Ideally, when looking straight ahead, your eyes should be level with the browser’s address bar. This helps avoid straining while working. Also, both feet should be flat on the floor (or footrest) and your shoulders should be rolled back for good posture. Sitting at a table also can maintain spine support.
In general, you want to avoid straining muscles — that’s what leads to lower back pain, with your body working harder to support the spine. So, it seems that grandma was onto something when she nagged you about your posture. Remember, the better your posture, the better your support.
Create an Ergonomic Workstation
Consider these health tips:
Don’t work on the couch. At first, you may find the couch to be a perfect substitute for your old office desk. But over time, you’re likely to experience numbness and muscle aches from having your legs and body stretched vertically for hours.
Use an adjustable office chair. This helps prevent back and neck pains. If getting an office chair isn’t an option, household items can help. Placing a firm cushion or tightly folded towel under your backside will lift your hips, making sitting more comfortable. Mismatches between your chair and desk height also can be countered by using a towel or pad under your wrists, or by using a footrest.
Find a workspace to call your own. Avoid sharing your work area with others — kids attending virtual school or a spouse/partner. Otherwise, you may find yourself constantly needing to re-adjust the seat and computer screen.
Check your height. Your elbows should align with the table/desk height, also helping to prevent carpal tunnel stress.
Eat well and stay hydrated. Instead of working straight through the day, allow yourself some “me time.” Keeping a lunch break with firm boundaries gets you away from the screen and gives you time to walk the dog, catch up on phone calls, make appointments and stretch your legs.
“20/20/20” breaks. There are many variations of this, but the basic idea is that for every 20 minutes spent looking at a screen, you should spend 20 seconds looking at something else 20 feet away. This reduces eye strain and relieves muscles. Invent your own mini-break schedule using a timer on your phone or laptop.
Strengthen Your Core
Daily stretching — 20 to 30 minutes before and after work — is important for general health. But to protect your back, you also need to strengthen your core — the muscles in your lower back, pelvis, hips and abdomen. If your only workspace option is a sofa, perch on the edge as if you’re sitting on a chair, keeping your feet flat on the floor. Or sit on a yoga ball for a simple workout. Use nearby chairs and counters to perform exercises throughout the day to improve strength and prevent aches and pains.