With a lot of us are spending more time working from home—and many of us with kids home remote learning—we have had to get more creative with our workplace set up. Typically, our homes were not designed to accommodate multiple family members in an ergonomically appropriate workstation. And as such, a lot of us are working at the kitchen counter, dinner table, family room couch, or our squishy (very unsupportive) beds.
All these new workstations have contributed to body aches and pains that are beginning to become more commonplace. While some of these pains may warrant a trip to physical therapy, there are some ways to try to improve pain or prevent it altogether. The following are physical therapist approved tips to improve body mechanics and decrease the stress on the body while working—or learning—from home.
Sit with your feet supported
Make sure feet are supported so that they can be flat on the ground. If your feet or your child’s feet do not reach the ground, it’s imperative to use a stool under your feet.
Feet should be completely flat, so little ones may even benefit from sitting at a small table and chair so that the workstation is an appropriate height for them. Sitting with feet supported can reduce stress on the low back and improve the body’s ability to relax muscles that aren’t needed for upright posture.
Properly support your elbows
Similar to the importance of foot support, your elbows should be properly supported as well. Modify your seat height so that elbows can be easily relaxed on the table surface. This is a little goldilocks situation because this means that the seat height needs to be “juuuust right.”
If the seat is too high, causing the elbows to be high above the table surface, this can place excess stress on the neck. However, if the seat is too low, causing the elbows to be scrunched on the surface, this can create increased stress on the wrists, elbows, and upper back. You can try using an adjustable chair or you can use pillows, books, seat cushions, etc in order to easily modify the seat height to ensure the elbows are properly supported.
Use proper posture
While staring at a computer screen, our natural inclination is to lean our face forward and slowing start to sink into a very poor posture. It’s important to actively think about posture at least once an hour. Think about the following to give yourself a little “posture check”:
- Feet supported
- Elbows appropriately relaxed on the surface
- Sitting on your sit bones: think about rocking your pelvis forward until you feel those bony butt bones on the chair. If you feel like this is a lot of stress on your low back, try a lumbar roll or just roll up a towel or sweatshirt to give your low back some more support.
- Shoulders rolled back: think about trying to pinch a pencil in between your shoulder blades.
- Chin pulled back: think about giving yourself a little double chin to bring your head back over your neck.
Your body is not meant to sit for multiple hours in a row. Take a break at least every couple of hours. You can walk around the house, take a trip around the block, add in a couple of yoga poses or stretches too.
Use breaks in your child’s school day to get some movement in as well! Try jumping jacks, stair climbing, hopscotch, animal walk races, quick bike rides, or scooter races! If your child starts to get bored and resorts toward the TV or tablet for a break, try to mix it up by brainstorming activities together. Write each idea on a popsicle stick—each stick could contain a new idea—and let your child pull out a popsicle stick from the cup. The activity can create a little more suspense to your movement breaks throughout the day.
If the above tips and tricks are not cutting it and you’re having signs of more physical wear and tear (persistent neck or back pain, numbness/tingling in your hands, tension headaches, or wrist pain), you can ask your primary care physician for a referral for physical therapy.
Most physical therapy offices are open and taking the necessary precautions to ensure patient safety. Additionally, many places are offering telemedicine, so that you can stay in the comfort of your home while receiving professional care for your pain. Here’s to hoping the tips provide a little more comfort, even with the ongoing discomfort and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.