How to Reduce the Risk of Neck and Back Pain While Working from Home
COVID-19 has profoundly changed many American’s working life. Millions of people now work or do schoolwork from home and there is a considerable amount of those individuals who are experiencing discomfort and developing musculoskeletal disorders due to poorly set up workspaces and lack of movement. Some of the most common musculoskeletal disorders associated with computer use is upper back, neck, lower back, and shoulder pain (Calik et al, 2020). There are many factors of a desk ergonomics that can contribute to musculoskeletal pain, such as the chair, desk layout, keyboard, and screen. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides tips to setting up your workspace:
- Find a chair that fits you
Choose a chair that supports upper back, lower back, and hips. Sitting too far forward can cause you to arch your back and sitting too far back can cause you to slouch. These positions can cause pain if sustained for periods of time. Feet should be flat on the floor and knees in line or slightly lower than your hips. There should be adequate clearance underneath your desk for legs and chair to slide underneath. Crossing your knees and ankles can also contribute to low back pain. Consider using a pillow to support your low back if you chair cannot be adjusted. A foot stool can also be used to make sure your knees are bent to take pressure off your lower back.
- Organize your desk
There are 3 “working zones” to a desk: primary, secondary and the non-working zone. The primary zone is where the most used items are kept, such as your keyboard, mouse, notebook, and pen. The secondary zone is where less frequently used items are located, such as phone or reference materials. The non-working zone is where you place all your personal belongings, rarely used stationary items or any desk décor; this zone is for items that are rarely used throughout the day.
- Monitor placement
The monitor should be adjusted so the top of the screen is eye level. If your neck is arched back, the monitor is too high and if your chin extends forward, then the monitor is too low. Your head should be balanced directly over your spine. The screen should be about arm’s length away. Adjusting the font or size on the display will allow you to read the text easier and help reduce visual fatigue. Screens should also be placed at right angles to windows and light filters or blue light glasses can be used to help reduce glare and prevent headaches. If you have more than one monitor, the primary monitor should be positioned directly in front of you to avoid twisting. Be sure to move the chair when looking at the second monitor.
- Keyboard and mouse
Keyboard and mouse should be kept on the same height and placed directly in front of you. Shoulders should be relaxed, elbows should be bent at a 100-110-degree angle and supported by the arm rest, and wrist should be straight.
It is easy to get caught up in work that hours can pass before we take a break. It is important to take a 1-2-minute stretch break every 20-30 minutes and a 5-10-minute break every hour. Our body needs breaks to avoid eyestrain and being in a fixed posture for a prolonged period of time which can lead to neck and back pain.
How Can a Physical Therapist Help?
- Perform ergonomics assessment to determine underlying cause of discomfort
- Provide strategies and recommendations for managing your health based on results from the ergonomic assessment
- Improve range of motion, flexibility, and strength
- Improve posture and endurance to be able to tolerate prolonged periods of sitting without pain
- Dry needling to release a trigger point to improve range of motion or relieve pain
Calik, B. B., Yagci, N., Oztop, M., & Caglar, D. (2020). Effects of Risk Factors Related to Computer Use on Musculoskeletal Pain in Office Workers. International Journal of Occupational Safety and Ergonomics, (just-accepted), 1-18.
United States Department of Labor. (n.d.). Computer Workstation eTool. Retrieved November 29, 2020, from https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/computerworkstations/index.html