Simple tricks to avoid back pain and tech neck for those working from home


One of the new normal trends to emerge from this ongoing pandemic is the work-from-home setup, which has become an important part in preventing the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. But working remotely may have also become a new source of stress, especially for those who don’t have the proper facilities for it—a strong internet connection, a good laptop, and some office equipment that have once made the daily grind bearable. 

For those who have created a makeshift home office out of their living area or bedroom or dining table, working from home for longer hours may have led not only to mental fatigue and burnout, but also back pain and “tech neck” or chronic pain in the neck and lower back. 

“Poor positioning of work equipment and sitting longer in chairs that were not designed for desk jobs can cause health issues that may get in your day-to-day tasks and affect your productivity, and even make you more prone to injury and fatigue,” says Anne Kathleen Ganal-Antonio, MD of the Department of Orthopaedics of top hospital in the Philippines Makati Medical Center (MakatiMed). 

With the pandemic nowhere near over and COVID-19 cases still on the rise, millions will still be doing business straight from their homes in the foreseeable future. Fortunately, Dr. Ganal-Antonio shares a few simple adjustments that can help get the work done minus the unnecessary aches and pains: 

Create an ergonomic workspace. There’s no need to buy expensive office furnishings to be comfortable while working from home. “Just improvise,” advises Dr. Ganal-Antonio. “Make sure your computer screen is in front of you at a comfortable viewing height, not in a place where you have to look down. If you use a laptop, prop it up to eye level on a stack of books or a sturdy box, and invest in an external keyboard and mouse. Your forearms and hands must be level and straight when you use the keyboard, and your arm must be close to the side of your body when using the mouse. The more your arm is stretched to the side, the greater the chance of straining your neck and shoulder.” 

As for the way you sit, make sure that your hips and knees are level, or your hips are slightly above your knees, she adds. “Avoid slouching or leaning forward. Instead, sit with your upper back straight and your lower back curving to the shape of the chair. Use a pillow to support your lower back. Make sure too that your feet touch the floor.” 

Dr. Ganal-Antonio also recommends using standing tables or a foot stool. “According to the pioneering study conducted by Swedish spine researcher and orthopedic surgeon Alf Nachemson, when we flex forward, more stress is concentrated at the discs, which are the shock absorbers of the spine. It’s best to be slightly reclined, about 110 degrees. You can use standing tables to lessen the stress. Adding a foot stool to alternately rest each foot can also help.” 

Get up. Sitting is the new smoking, as the saying goes, and studies have linked longer sitting time with higher risk of death, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. But standing for long periods has also been associated with varicose veins and back pain. “A Cornell University professor of ergonomics suggests following the rule of 20-8-2: Sit for 20 minutes, get up for 8 minutes, and move around for at least 2 minutes,” Dr. Ganal-Antonio shares. 

Use the break to stretch, roll your shoulders, do arm circles, or touch your toes. “You can also give yourself a reason to stand up and move,” the doctor adds. “Place the printer or phone in the other side of the room so you have no choice but to get up and walk when you need them.” 

Work out in your workplace. Start and end your workday with simple yet effective exercises that strengthen your core and target the muscles on your back and shoulders, says Dr. Ganal-Antonio. “Begin with 10 squats, 10 tricep dips using a stable chair, and 10 wall push-ups. You can also do jumping jacks, push-ups, and crunches to stimulate circulation.” 

For more information, please contact MakatiMed On-Call at +632.8888 8999, email mmc@makatimed.net.ph, or visit www.makatimed.net.ph.

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