Working from Home? Try these 5 Tips to Protect Your Back and Neck
We asked Summit spine specialist Catherine Choi, M.D., to share her best tips for keeping your back and neck pain-free when working from home.
In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees who once commuted to an office are now working from home. Some workers are using ad hoc home office setup—and suffering with back or neck pain as a result.
Working from home tip 1: Check your workstation
A few simple changes can help make your computer workstation ergonomically correct, Dr. Choi said. “You want to make sure your laptop is at an appropriate height,” she said.
If it’s too high, you will shrug your shoulders as you type. This sets the stage for shoulder, neck, and upper-back pain. A laptop is meant to be at lap level. Flex the screen so that the laptop is looking up at you. That allows your eyes to be looking ahead rather than down.
Working from home tip 2: Sit right
Sitting properly can make the difference between painful and pain-free when you’re working from home. Make sure you’re seated in a chair with good cushioning and back support. Gel seats and lumbar rolls help to keep your back in alignment and provide a gentle reminder when you start to slouch. You also want to make sure you are sitting up straight. “People tend to slowly slouch as they sit, but if you check every hour and self-correct, you can prevent pain from developing,” said Dr. Choi.
How do you know if you’re sitting straight? Your ears should be in line with your shoulders, and your shoulders in line with your hips, according to Dr. Choi. “It feels like you’re sticking your chest out, but it’s the proper alignment,” she said.
Working from home tip 3: Take stretch breaks
Once an hour, take five minutes to get up from your desk and do some gentle stretches. This resets your muscles and prevents tension from building up and causing pain while you’re working from home.
“There are some great exercises available on Summit’s website in the Summit Spine Exercise Library. They’re designed to be easy to do at home,” Dr. Choi said.
Choose exercises that reach your trouble spots. If you tend to have neck pain, do some neck exercises. If you have back issues, tackle some low-back exercises. You can also vary the exercises throughout the day. Five minutes is all you need.
Working from home tip 4: Take a walk
“Building in relaxation is definitely key, so that your stress levels are not continually rising throughout the day,” Dr. Choi said.
Take a longer break in the middle of the day to get outside and do something active. Dr. Choi recommends 30 minutes to an hour, if possible. Moving around not only gives your spine and neck a break—doing some moderate physical activity each day also has been shown to improve heart health, joint health, and mental well-being. “Taking a break helps you come back refreshed and ready to be productive in the afternoon,” Dr. Choi said.
Working from home tip 5: Try a TENS
If back or neck pain is making working from home a struggle, consider a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) machine. A TENS unit is an electrical stimulation device designed to relieve pain without medication. “It provides electrical impulses that twitch at the skin level, blocking pain signals and leading to muscle relaxation,” Dr. Choi said.
Using a TENS unit for 30 minutes at a time can help prevent your back or neck muscles from tightening up. You can purchase one over the counter, or you can talk with your healthcare provider about getting a prescription for one. Not sure whether a TENS machine is right for you? Talk with your Summit provider.
Summit Orthopedics offers comprehensive spine expertise
Our back specialists diagnose spine problems and design custom treatment plans built on a conservative, nonsurgical approach. Most patients find relief through treatments including guided injections, specialized physical therapy, biofeedback, exercise, activity modification, and medication. When conservative care does not relieve symptoms, our highly skilled surgeons offer proven, evidence-based surgical options. Together with you, we will determine the right course of action.
Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MN, Plymouth, MN, Vadnais Heights, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as additional community clinics throughout the metro and southern Minnesota.
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