Are you sitting comfortably - postural pain

Lockdown has been challenging for many but for those working full-time from home there is not only the stress of constant meetings on Zoom but also typing at a computer without a proper desk setup.

Working from home has meant possibly not having a desk and finding yourself slouching at the kitchen table or worse on your sofa or bed, and for some of us balancing a child on your lap at the same time!

As physiotherapists and osteopaths during lockdown we have seen an increase in the number of patients suffering with pain caused by poor and sometimes unavoidable postural habits in the past few weeks. The commonest sites of postural pain are neck, upper back and lower back pain followed by shoulder, elbow and wrist pain, as well as tension type headache.

Ergonomics, the science of good work posture, can help set up your home workspace more effectively to prevent the onset of pain related to prolonged unhealthy posture.

  1. Desk depth: your desk should always be deep enough to allow the whole length of your forearm to be comfortably supported. Your elbow should not rest on the edge of the desk as this can cause areas of localised pressure on muscles and/or nerves ultimately leading to pain.
  2. Screen height: your screen is at the right height if you are able to look at it without tilting your head up, down or sideways, ideally maintaining your neck straight.
  3. Mouse: if you realise that the wrist and arm on the side of the mouse get tired and achy switch side, it will take a bit of time to get used to using the mouse with your non-dominant hand but it’s a good exercise and it’ll give the dominant hand a break. Also, have you considered a vertical mouse? again switching between a vertical and a standard mouse might provide your arm with a different way to engage with its muscles and prevent chronic strain.
  4. Chair: the right height for your chair will allow your knees and hips to be bent at about 90 degrees, with your feet able to rest comfortably on the floor. Seat depth also plays an important role. The edge of the seat should just about end behind your knees without creating a point of pressure though. The back support of the chair should ideally have a lumbar support and we suggest that you don’t necessarily rest your back against the support all the time but switch between a more laid back posture and an unsupported one so that your muscles activate and stay healthy.
  5. Standing desk or equivalent: it is a good idea to switch between a sitting and a standing position during your working day. So if you can lift your laptop to a higher level (maybe on a bookshelf?) and work standing for about 30 minutes every other hour it would be of great benefit for your back and leg muscles.

If you are experiencing discomfort or pain during your working activity you should try to action this advice as well maintain a good level of physical activity.

There are a number of exercises you can do to help target any sites of pain and discomfort. Our osteopath Jake Alsop takes you through a workout for upper back symptoms and neck pain in these home workout videos.

Our Pilates instructor Michelle Lane has created some low back and abdominal muscle workouts that will help with most low back problems.

If your symptoms persist or you’re concerned about your symptoms, our osteopaths and physiotherapists are all on hand to help and you can contact us on 020 7735 6813.