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Avoid These Common Aches and Pains While Working from Home

Has working from home given you a sore back or a literal pain in the neck? Physiatrist Kathleen L. Davenport, MD, has some suggestions to help you soothe your aching body.

It’s not surprising that people are hurting, says Kathleen L. Davenport, MD, Director of Physiatry at HSS Florida. “Haphazard home office setups are causing all sorts of body aches and pains.” But incorporating movement, simple exercises and some stretches into your daily routine can go a long way to ease a sore and achy body.

photo of young woman feeling pain rubbing tensed muscles

Here are a few of the most common aches and pains, and some suggestions from Dr. Davenport on how you can find relief.

Backache

It all begins with your seated posture. “We are not built to sit for eight to 10 hours,” says Dr. Davenport. If you lean forward in your chair, or slump on a couch, you are placing excess stress on your mid- and low back.

It’s important to take regular breaks from sitting. Dr. Davenport recommends using a computer stand that allows you to transition between sitting and standing throughout the day if possible. You can also try moving your laptop to a kitchen counter, which allows you to stand and work. “Consciously think of lengthening your spine to avoid slumping,” Dr. Davenport advises.

If going outside doesn’t add more stress to your day, try a brisk walk around the block or around the house just to move your legs. At the very least, stand up every 20 minutes. Adding some simple exercise can help even more.

For relief, try this: Throughout the day, try a variation of the cat-cow yoga stretch. Do this sitting or standing. If you are sitting move to the edge of your chair; if you are standing soften your knees. Have your feet hip-width distance apart with your hands on your thighs. Engage your core. Inhale as you arch your back, lifting your chin and chest up as you look toward the ceiling. Then exhale as you round through your spine, curling your tailbone under, moving your chin toward your chest. Return to the starting position. Repeat this slowly for 30 seconds to one minute.

Neck Pain

If you thrust your head or chin toward the computer screen — and many people do, says Dr. Davenport — you are placing tremendous stress on your neck and shoulders. To prevent this, pull your chin back so your ears are over, not in front of, your shoulders.

If you’re not sure whether your chin is in the correct position, Dr. Davenport recommends standing up with your back against a wall. Your heels, buttocks, shoulders, and back of your head should all contact the wall. This puts your chin at the proper angle and ensures your spine and head are in alignment.

For relief, try this: Slowly nod your chin down to your chest. Then look up at the ceiling. Do this for three or four times. Then, without moving your shoulders, move your right ear toward your right shoulder several times. Repeat on the left side.

Shoulder Aches

Hunching over your laptop or keyboard can lead to aching shoulders. When working at your computer, sit or stand tall, lengthen your spine and roll your shoulders back and down without thrusting out your lower back or ribs.

For relief, try this: Drop your shoulders and move them back as if the shoulder blades were coming together. Release and repeat several times. Then make four large shoulder circles. Move your shoulders up, behind and then forward in a circular motion. Repeat several times.

Wrist Pain

Typing on a keyboard all day or clicking your mouse repeatedly can cause wrist pain and tenderness. To avoid further irritation, support your wrist on a soft pad designed for a keyboard or mouse.

For relief, try this stretch: Hold your arm out in front of you and keep your elbow straight. Flex your hand up and back. Then drop the wrist until your fingertips point to the ground. Do this several times on each wrist. Then move each wrist in a circle, to the left and then the right, for several rotations.

Sore eyes

Excessive screen time can cause eyestrain, headaches and sleep problems.

It’s important to have ample light wherever you may be working. To cut down on glare, windows should be at a 90-degree angle; avoid facing a window or having one at your back. If none of that works, Dr. Davenport suggests trying blue light glasses, which can help ease eye strain by filtering out the blue light emitted from electronic devices.

For relief, try this: After every 20 minutes of screen time, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds. If you feel eye tension, open and close your eyes with a soft blink.

When to Seek Medical Help

Adding stretches and light exercise to your routine can remedy most mild work-from-home aches and pains, says Dr. Davenport. If you are not feeling better after a week, see your doctor. For pain that is severe, do not wait more than 24 to 48 hours before seeing a physiatrist or other medical professional who specializes in musculoskeletal health.

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