Over the last couple of years, more of us than ever have started working from home (at least some of the time), and it’s a trend that looks like it’s here to stay. While there are definitely positive aspects to this – spending less time commuting, for example, or being able to have more flexible childcare arrangements – there are challenges too, both physical and mental. Many people find that they move around less during the day when they’re working from home, and this can contribute to back or neck pain. Working from home can also make it harder to draw clear boundaries between work and home life. As one patient of mine put it: “it feels less like working from home, and more like living at work”.
There isn’t an easy one-size-fits-all answer to the problem, and you may need to experiment with different ways of working to find the best strategy for you. In this blog, I’ll cover five tips that have worked well for my patients.
#1. Start and end the day with a virtual commute
One of my most popular suggestions has been to start and finish the workday with a short walk, instead of the usual commute to the office. It’s a great way of sneaking some extra movement into the day, and going for a walk outdoors can help to clear your head. It’s also an opportunity to draw clearly defined boundaries around your workday. Many of my patients have told me how they’ve got into the habit of working right into the evening, and regularly checking and responding to emails after normal work hours, So decide in advance when you’re going to finish work, and before you do your end of the day walk, clear your workspace so that when you return, you’re coming back home – not to the office.
#2. Take time to set up your workspace…
It’s not always easy if you’re short of space, but taking the time to make your space as comfortable as possible beats slumping on your sofa or hunching over the kitchen table. Having your screen at a good height and a supportive chair can go a long way. If you work at a computer, you may want to go further and have a full workstation assessment. If you work for a company they should be able to help with this, or you can find a self-assessment checklist here. Before you get too carried away, though, see point number 3.
#3. …but change position regularly
Contrary to popular opinion there is no one perfect position to work in. Not only will different people find different set ups comfortable, but every position will become uncomfortable if you stay there for too long. Lots of our patients worry that they have “poor posture” (this is something we’ve discussed previously in this blog). I generally point out that most problems that people ascribe to bad posture are actually due to a lack of movement rather than the position itself. Try and find several different comfortable working positions you can switch between. You may do this by changing the settings on your office chair, or switching between sitting and standing, or having a different kind of chair such as a saddle stool, or even an exercise ball that you can use to mix things up.
#4. Take movement ‘snacks’
Another way to avoid the problem of staying in the same place for too long is to spread regular movement breaks through the day. Having a few quick mobility routines or easy exercises that you can do in a minute or two in between meetings can make more difference then you think. The key is making sure that you do them regularly. Setting a phone or a watch to chime at you every half-hour works for some people (some smartwatches will automatically let you know when you’ve not moved in a while), or alternatively link your movement break to things you already do – for example when you have a cup of tea, when you check your email, or at the end of a meeting. We’ll be posting some good easy exercises that work well for this on our website and social media.
#5. Ask for help sooner rather than later
If you’re starting to get pain, don’t wait for it to become unbearable before you seek help. Often things are much easier to fix if you tackle the root causes as soon as possible. Try these tips first, but if you’re still struggling then consider seeing a professional for a proper assessment and advice. Many of our patients are pleasantly surprised at how easy their pain was to resolve; we often hear “I wish I’d come to see you months ago!”