Ask a PT: How do I make working from home less of a pain?
During COVID-19, those who can work from home are doing so. If you’re among them, you might be feeling some pain in your back, neck, legs, wrists or even elbows. You’re not alone. You might think your suboptimal workspace is the reason your back is hurting. Bad ergonomics certainly won’t help, but the real reason you’re in pain is that you’re probably not moving enough.
For many of us, working from home means moving less - no commute, no in-person meetings, no socializing in the kitchen… it all adds up to a whole lot of sitting. And the fact is, no amount of “good posture” can help you if you’re sitting in the same position all day long.
The best position for your body is the next position, so scheduling in some movement breaks is the best medicine.
Level 1: Just stand up
Take an assessment of your day. How long are you sitting in one spot? How often are you getting up to move around?
Commit to increasing your movement - taking a break every hour to stand up and sit back down hourly can help relieve the aches.
Level 2: Add some movement snacks
We often think of exercise in terms of big chunks: a 30-minute walk or an hour-long bike ride. While it is important to incorporate regular exercise in your life, movement “snacks” - small bouts of activity that last one to 10 minutes - can be really helpful for staving off musculoskeletal pain.
Ideally, take a few minutes every hour or two and walk around your home. If you have stairs, go up and down them a few times. Even if you are confined to a small space, walking back and forth will help reset your body.
Level 3: Try our WFH Workout
Once you’ve added movement snacks to your schedule, you can also add these exercises at your desk (or the kitchen table you have made into your office) to help keep your body happy. Try incorporating them into your routine one to three times per day.
- Seated trunk rotation: An easy movement to keep the spine mobile. Keep both feet planted on the ground. Turn to the right. You can use your left hand on the outside of your right thigh to get more movement. Switch sides. Do 5 times each way.
- Head tilt: Sitting up straight, tilt your head toward one shoulder, then return to the center. Switch sides. Do 5-10 each way.
- Single leg balance: Standing on one foot recruits your foot, leg, hip and core muscles and improves your balance. It’s easy to do while talking on the phone or waiting for something to print, simply stand on one foot. Keep your hips level and your knee slightly bent. Try to hold it for 25 seconds. Switch sides.
- Heel raises: As we sit, our blood tends to follow gravity and pool in our legs. Our calf muscles help pump that blood back to our hearts. So stand up, go up on your tiptoes, and lower back down. To make it harder, do one leg at a time. Do 10-20 times.
- Chair taps: Get your heart rate up and remind your back it’s strong with this modified squat. Scoot your bottom to the edge of the chair. Place both feet on the floor, about shoulder width apart. Lean forward slightly and stand up. Now lower yourself down to tap the chair with your bottom then stand up immediately. Do not sit down. Doing this with a rolling chair adds an element of danger, so stick to using chairs without wheels. Do 10-20 times.
Now that you’ve gotten moving, how do you feel?
Is anything feeling “off” or sore? Are you noticing pain that lingers, even when you change positions and do exercises?
If so, SWORD Health can help. We combine licensed physical therapists with wearable technology to guide you through a customized program that can help you feel better from the comfort of your own home, on your own schedule.
Want to learn more about SWORD? Fill out this form and someone will get in touch.
About the author: Megan Hill, PT, DPT
Megan Hill, Doctor of Physical Therapy, is a licensed physical therapist focused on musculoskeletal rehab and chronic pain management. She dropped her plans to go to law school for physical therapy after a knee injury from the Chicago Marathon left her in need of rehab, and she hasn’t looked back since. She’s on a mission to empower people to manage their health through exercise, education and coaching, rather than relying on passive approaches.
Megan earned a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). She also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Duke University and is a certified running coach.
Megan lives in Denver, Colorado, where she spends every spare second running, biking, hiking, sailing and stand up paddleboarding with her husband, Layton, and dog, Ollie.