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Working from home

Working from Home – How to Prevent Pain

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The most common complaint in my clinic now is neck and/or back pain due to working from home since the onset of the pandemic.

No matter how well a workstation is designed, we are not designed to sit or stand for prolonged periods of time.

In this Blog you will learn why your office space may be causing you pain and what to do about it.  With a few simple modifications to your work space and work habits you can help prevent the onset of pain from working from home.

If you are already experiencing pain from working from home acupuncture treatments can rapidly relieve your pain along with following the easy steps below.

Why is working from home causing you pain?

Research shows that repetitive motion, poor posture and staying in the same position can cause or worsen musculoskeletal disorders.

1. Repetitive Motion

Repetitive motion is carrying out repetitive tasks for long periods without suitable rest breaks.  Examples of repetitive motion at your desk is; typing, using your computer mouse and writing.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is a common repetitive injury from working at a desk.  The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway in your palm where a nerve (median nerve) runs through it.  When the passageway narrows due to swelling from injury the nerve is compressed.

Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome are: 

  • Tingling and numbness in palm, thumb, or first two fingers, especially during the night or in the morning.
  • Aching pain in the wrist and hand, with occasional shooting pains up the forearm.
  • Weakness in the hands and fingers and trouble gripping or holding objects.

How to Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome:

  1. Avoid bending wrists for long periods.
  2. Avoid leaning on the heel of your hand or your wrist.
  3. Reduce your force.  Strike the keys on the key board lightly.
  4. Relax your grip.  For prolonged handwriting, use a big pen with an oversized, soft grip adapter.
  5. Change your computer mouse and keyboard.  Many people benefit from using a split/V-shaped ergonomic keyboard. If possible, try one for at least a week.  Make sure that your computer mouse is comfortable and doesn’t strain your wrist.
  6. Improve your posture.  Incorrect posture rolls shoulders forward, shortening your neck and shoulder muscles and compressing nerves in your neck and shoulders.  This can affect your wrists, fingers and hands and can cause neck pain.  Start with arranging your work space using the ergonomic guidelines below.
  7. Take short, frequent breaks. Alternate tasks when possible.
  8. Do the below stretching exercises every 20-25 minutes.  Do not do any stretch or movement that is uncomfortable or painful.

Prayer Stretch

The prayer stretch
  1. Start with your palms together in front of your chest just below your chin.
  2. Slowly lower your hands toward your waistline, keeping your hands close to your stomach and your palms together, until you feel a mild to moderate stretch under your forearms.
  3. Hold for at least 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat 2 to 4 times.

Wrist Flexor Stretch

The wrist flexor stretch
  1. Extend your arm in front of you with your palm up.
  2. Bend your wrist, pointing your hand toward the floor.
  3. With your other hand, gently bend your wrist farther until you feel a mild to moderate stretch in your forearm.
  4. Hold for at least 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat 2 to 4 times.

Wrist Extensor Stretch

The wrist extensor stretch
  1. Extend your arm in front of you with your palm down.
  2. Bend your wrist, pointing your hand toward the floor.
  3. With your other hand, gently bend your wrist farther until you feel a mild to moderate stretch in your forearm.
  4. Hold for at least 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat 2 to 4 times.

How to Treat Carpal Tunnel Syndrome:

  • Acupuncture can provide immediate relief and treat CTS
  • Ice wrist and palm to reduce swelling
  • Wear a wrist splint at night to keep the wrist straight
  • Include the above wrist stretches in your breaks

2. Poor Posture

Poor posture leads to chronic strain and discomfort.  When working at your desk with an incorrect posture you develop excessive tightness in your shoulders and chest with weakness in your neck and mid-back. This combination of weakness and tightness forces your shoulders to roll inward and your head to project forward.

This postural problem, known as Upper Crossed Syndrome is exceptionally common in computer workstation users.

Believe it or not, the average human head weighs around 5kg or 11lbs!  That’s more than most new-born babies and all that is balanced on just 7 vertebrae in your neck and supported by about 20 muscles that are responsible for moving your head around and keeping that weight in place.

With the head projected forward significantly more effort is required from the muscles and joints of the neck trying to hold the head in that forward position.  Research has showed that by tilting the head forward, the forces acting on the head increase dramatically.  This effort results in strain of the muscles of your neck and upper back that becomes uncomfortable and may also lead to neck pain, upper back pain, headaches, TMJ pain, cervical nerve compression and ultimately arthritis.

text neck posture

This is what most of us look like when we are using our mobile phones!

How To Improve Your Posture or Prevent Upper Crossed Syndrome

Correction of Upper Crossed Syndrome is accomplished by stretching the tight muscles, strengthening weak muscles, and modifying your workstation.  Below are strengthening and stretching exercises for Upper Crossed Syndrome.

Cervical Retractions – Perform 1 set of 10 reps, 3 times per day.

Stand with your back against a wall.  Your buttocks and shoulder blades should be in contact with the wall, heels 1-2 inches from the wall.  Focus your vision on a spot on the wall to avoid neck flexion (head tilted down) or extension (head tilted up).

Tuck your chin to make a “double chin” until the base of your skull contacts the wall.  Hold this position for 3-5 seconds and then relax.

Return to the starting position.

To progress, place a finger on your chin, and apply backwards pressure at end range. Imagine that your head is on drawer slides. Keep your mouth closed.

Deep Neck Flexion – Perform 1 set of 10 reps, 3 times per day

Lie on your back with your head supported.

Perform a “chin tuck” by retracting your head to create a double chin.

Lift your head, bringing chin toward your chest without lifting shoulders, as though you are looking at your toes.

Hold this position for 3-4 seconds.

Lower your head and relax.

          Keep your teeth apart during exercise to decrease straining at the jaw.

Levator Stretch – Perform 3 sets of 10 reps, 2 times per day, each side

While sitting, grasp the seat of your chair with your left hand.

Rotate your head toward the right and look downward toward the floor.

Place your right hand over the top of your head and gently pull down and diagonally in the direction you are looking.

Against the resistance of your hand, contract your neck in an attempt to push your head backward/diagonally from the direction you are looking for seven seconds.

Relax and gently pull your head further toward the floor to increase the stretch.

Lock into this new position, and make sure that you continue to keep your head rotated in the direction that you are pulling.

Trapezius Stretch- Sitting – Perform 3 sets of 10 reps, 2 times per day, each side.

While sitting, reach down with your right arm, grasping the bottom of a chair for stability.

While looking straight ahead, place your left hand on top of your head, and gently pull your head sideways toward the left.

Against the resistance of your arms, attempt to bring your right ear and right shoulder together for seven seconds.

Relax and stretch further toward the left. “Lock-in” to each new position, and do not allow any slack.

Pectoral Stretch – Perform 3 sets of 10 reps, 2 times.

Stand in the middle of a door frame (door open)

Place palms, forearms and elbows on the door frame on either side.

Lean forward to stretch your chest muscles. Hold for 7 seconds.

YTWL Scapular Depression – Perform 3 sets of 10 reps, 2 times.

Stand with your straight arms raised above your head in a “Y” position. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and downward throughout the following sequence of movements.

Lower your straightened arms to shoulder level, into a “T” position.

Next bend your elbows so that your fingers are pointing straight up while slightly lowering your elbows to make a “W”.

Finally, while keeping your elbows bent 90 degrees, lower your arms to your sides so that your elbows are touching your ribs to form an “L” on each side and squeeze.

Hold each position for 1-2 seconds.

Low Row – Perform 3 sets of 10 reps, 2 times.

Attach the center of an elastic exercise band to a door knob or other sturdy object in front of you.

Grasp one end of the band in each hand and with straight arms at your side, stretch the band backwards.  Squeeze your shoulder blades together and downward throughout the following sequence of movements.  Keep your palms facing backward and arms pointed straight down throughout the exercise.

Return to neutral and repeat

Brugger with a band – Perform 3 sets of 10 reps, 2 times

Begin sitting or standing with an elastic exercise band wrapped and secured around your palms.

Begin with your arms at your side, elbows bent, forearm’s pointing forward.

Move your hands apart from each other to maximally stretch the band while simultaneously rotating your palms out, straightening your arms, and pinching your shoulder blades together as your hands move behind your hips.

Return to the start position and repeat.

Work Station Ergonomics for Good Posture

Work station ergonomics can help a person be more comfortable at work.  It can reduce stress on the body and reduce injuries caused by prolonged awkward positions and repetitive tasks at a workstation.

Laptop computers are not ergonomically designed for prolonged use with the monitor and keyboard so close together. For prolonged use it’s recommended to add a separate monitor and/or keyboard. The laptop can be placed on books so that the top of the screen is at eye level, then use an external keyboard so that your elbows can rest at 90 degrees by your side.

3. Prolonged Stationary Sitting or Standing

Working at a computer often involves very few changes in body position.  This lack of movement can lead to muscle pain and strain.  It doesn’t take long to develop muscle pain and strain, the process has already started at the first sign of discomfort.

Even if you’re comfortable, you should never sit in one position for a long time.  Every 20-25 minutes take a short break to stretch.

Also look away from your screen occasionally and focus your eyes on an object far away to reduce eye strain.

Stretches For Your Breaks – Every 20-25 minutes

Don’t forget to add the wrist stretches above into your routine.

Click on this link if you would like to download this poster (sourced from Barbre Ergonomics) and print it for your workstation.

In the meantime enjoy all the perks of working from home; hanging out with your furry friend, dressing comfortably, avoiding rush hour traffic and enjoying your morning coffee in your favourite cozy spot at home. 

Wishing you all safe and joyous days ahead.

Alfie and I working from home.