Exercising, stretching and posture checks can help ease the aches caused by a home work environment

Vancouver-based registered physiotherapist Hayley Alexander shares how you can minimize the strain on your muscles and joints as you work in a less-than-ideal office setup. If this information seems overwhelming and would necessitate a big change to your normal routine, simply try one tip each day.

Here are five tips to help prevent muscle and joint pain when working from home...

1. Walk every day

Break up your sitting with a walk during your workday. Aim for a minimum of 20 minutes and go for a brisk walk outdoors to increase your heart rate and move your body.

2. Optimize your home desk setup and do quick posture checks

Both feet should rest flat on the floor and there should be about a 90-degree bend at your knees and at your hips. If the chairs in your home do not adjust, then you could prop your feet up on textbooks, boxes or other items you have around the house. Your bum should be near the back of the chair so that your thighs are supported. If your chair does not have any back support, try taking a small pillow or rolled-up towel and placing it between your low back and chair back for support.

Your elbows should be bent around 90 degrees and your wrists should be straight. Your computer screen should be at eye level. For many people, this may mean stacking boxes or textbooks under your laptop or monitor. Looking down at your screen all day can lead to neck pain.

Even with a good setup, we can end up with poor slouching posture, so try to check in with your posture throughout the day. Sit tall with your shoulders relaxed and your rib cage stacked over your pelvis. The idea is not to have perfect posture all day long, but rather to catch yourself slouching and to make a small adjustment to your posture as many times as you can remember.

If you need help with your desk setup, you may book a video session with your local physiotherapist who can help you optimize your home office ergonomics.

3. Alternate between sitting and standing 

If you have a standing desk, that is great! Our bodies are not designed to be in any one position for an entire work day, so consider alternating between sitting and standing throughout the day. If you do not have a standing desk, you can create your own by using boxes under your computer monitor. If you are not able to create a standing desk, try standing while taking a phone or video call to break up the amount of time sitting.

4. Take short movement breaks to move your body and spine

Get in the habit of taking a movement break before you start to feel achy and uncomfortable. Here are three simple spinal mobility exercises that you can try:

Mermaid

  1. Stand tall with your arms down by your side.
  2. Inhale and raise your right arm up overhead.
  3. Exhale and bend over to your left side while keeping your chest lifted and shoulders facing forward.
  4. Inhale and return to standing tall.
  5. Exhale and lower your arm down.
  6. Repeat on the opposite side.
  7. Continue alternating for a total of 10 side bends.

Spinal twists

  1. Stand tall with your arms out to the side.
  2. Inhale and lengthen your spine.
  3. Exhale and twist your torso to the right as far as you can without pain.
  4. Inhale and return to the centre.
  5. Exhale and twist to your left.
  6. Continue alternating for a total of 10 spinal twists.

Modified cat/cow

  1. Sit in your chair with your forearms on your desk.
  2. Lean forward from your hips to find a flat back position.
  3. Inhale and arch your back, lifting your chest up and sticking your tailbone back behind you.
  4. Exhale and round your back while tucking your tailbone under and bringing your chin down to your chest.
  5. Continue alternating between arching and rounding your back 10 times in a row.

5.  Stretch your hip flexors 

When we sit for most of the day our hip flexor muscles can become tight. These muscles attach to the lumbar spine and can contribute to low back pain so we want to keep them healthy. Here is a simple hip flexor stretch that you can do at your desk:

  1. Stand with your left foot forward and right foot back.
  2. Bend your left knee and lift your right heel off the floor.
  3. Tuck your tailbone under and squeeze your right buttock.
  4. You should feel an opening and a stretch in the front of the right hip.
  5. Hold this position for 30 seconds.
  6. Then repeat on the opposite side.

hayleyHayley Alexander is a registered physiotherapist based in Vancouver, B.C. She specializes in clinical pilates rehabilitation, women’s health, pelvic health and chronic pain. She offers one-on-one physiotherapy treatments through Treloar Physiotherapy Clinic and Optimal Performance Clinic. She is currently offering online physiotherapy via video call during the Covid-19 pandemic. You can find Hayley on Instagram for exercise and wellness tips.

Disclaimer: This article is meant as general advice only and does not substitute individualized medical care. If you are experiencing ongoing pain please contact your doctor or local physiotherapist.