Work From Home, Life As We Know It

Aches, Pains, Braces OH MY!

Have you been working from home? What kind of question is that? Of course you have been working from home. I mean there IS a pandemic happening. As we approach the 6-month mark of WFH more and more people are finding out that they will not actually return to the office until next year,or that they are permanently working from home. Don’t you feel like it is time to actually make yourself an office? Enough waiting already. Time will continue to pass, but your back will only get worse. Sitting on the couch slouched down into the deep crevasses of nowhere land, or hunched over your kitchen bar stool can only be tolerated for so long. When you pull yourself out of the chair for a bathroom break don’t you see that you look like Quasimodo? Or are your co-workers not telling you that your appearance needs some help? How rude,right? Can’t a guy get some help?

Your previous office hopefully had someone working on ergonomics. Ergonomics is the study of how efficient you work in your surrounding environment. Your environment includes: your chair and its various adjustments, keyboard height, monitor height, use of a form fitting mouse, lighting in your office, position of your phone and other objects used throughout the day, etc. These environmental factors can be changed per the individual to make your body more comfortable and less strained. One individual’s setup will not be the same as someone else’s. Small changes can make a large difference. As your body starts to adapt to poorly positioned environmental controls such as your chair height, you start to add strain to different areas and eventually start suffering from fatigue and pain.  With COVID there have been a significant increase in complaints of injury and pain throughout the spine from poor ergonomics. The most common two pain sites are the neck and shoulders and the lower back. Instead of fixing the primary problem of work station set up, more people are trying to compensate with utilization of back braces. Over the shoulder straps to keep your shoulders back, head up, and chest out are flying off the shelves justlike masks were early on. The problem with bracing is the inevitable cause of increased pain levels. Unfortunately, bracing achy muscles to take the strain off the areas of concern are only helpful short term. Long term, these braces unload the musculature allowing your muscles to fully relax with a passive structure (the brace) holding you upright. Over time your muscles decrease the ability to hold your body upright for long periods, such as sitting at your desk. This weakness leads to fatigue during the times that you are not wearing your brace. And the fatigue leads to pain once the strain becomes high enough.The fatigue will start to progress at shorter time frames as the weakness continues. In the beginning you may only notice pain after an hour of sitting without the brace, but as the weeks and months go on the pain will start after only a few minutes. It is important for your body to continue to work on its own without outside help from devices. A dependency on a back brace for posture will only continue to lead you down a dark path. Working on proper workplace set up and posture will slowly increase your muscle memory and strength to prevent you from needing a brace. Muscle strengthening can take up to 6 weeks to occur. So don’t get angry if you feel pain wax and wane from good to bad on certain days. Your postural awareness and slumped positioning took time to get it, it will also take time for you to get back to neutral and upright positioning.

Take a look at the picture from Mayo clinic as a guideline for your ergonomic setup. The major recommendations for any work station include:

Photo Credit: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research

1)     Feet should be comfortably touching the floor. Your entire foot should be flat on the floor. Do not rest your feet on the bottom of the chair or the wheels.

2)     Your arms should be resting on the arm rests to your sides as you use the keyboard. The arm rests should put a 90* curve atyour elbows to prevent you from pressing your shoulders up into your neck from an arm rest that is too high, and to prevent you from reaching down to an armrest that is too low.

3)     Chin should be slightly tucked to keep your head in neutral. This means tucking the chin straight back, not lowering the chin towards your chest or raising your chin towards the ceiling.

4)     Your butt should be tucked all the way back into the crease of the chair. This will prevent you from slouching and sitting on your sacrum or from leaning forward creating too much lordosis (curvature) in your lower back.

5)     Pull your shoulder blades down and back to prevent your shoulders from rolling forward.

6)     Your monitor should be about 10* down from eye level to prevent you from wrenching your neck to view your screen.

7)     Your phone and other desk objects should be close enough to reach without having to move too far every time you want to use them.

8)     Try to not be reaching to the same side for objects throughout the day. If you use your phone on the right side of yourdesk, try to position something that you use equally as much on the left side.

9)     Do not cross your legs as this puts pressure to one hip, leading to an imbalance in spinal position, leading to pain.

10)  Wrist position should be neutral or slightly elevated when using a mouse or keyboard. A specific ergonomic mouse or keyboard would be helpful for those that use either device for most of their workday.

Below are some helpful ergonomics devices to help you get started. It is important to note that I am not getting compensation from any products listed and these have been chosen based on my knowledge skill set of appropriate work station ergonomics.

Ergonomic Wireless Mouse
Wireless Ergonomic Mouse- $25.99 on Amazon

Ergonomic Wireless Keyboard
Ergonomic Wireless Keyboard $69.99 on Amazon

Ergonomic Foot Rest
Ergonomic Foot Rest-$20.78 on Amazon

Ergonomic Standing Conversion Desk
Stand up Desk Converter-$179.95 on Amazon

Remember, using a brace is only a short fix. It will cause long term pain management issues and only make your situation worse. It is more important to fix the problem than to cover it up!