Musculoskeletal Pain after Poor Home Working Practices

07th August 2020

When lockdown began earlier in the year, most of us didn’t think it would be more than a few weeks before we were back in the office, let alone a few months. Adapting to a new home-working life was easier for some than others; if you’re fortunate enough to have a home office – you’d be in the minority. Many people were forced to trade office desks and ergonomic chairs for sofas, kitchen tables and even their bed, which in a lot of cases has had a damaging effect on their body. However, it’s not just the position we sit in that has an impact either, elements within the environment also contribute to how our body reacts and settles, such as lighting and monitor arrangement.

As the transition to home working was very much last minute for a lot of individuals, it hasn’t been given the same environmental assessment or ergonomic attention as the workplace, so it’s easier to fit into bad habits – especially when there is no one there to guide you on the proper practices. It’s no surprise that reports of new musculoskeletal pain have risen significantly in the past few months.

As the pandemic currently has no end in sight, neither does the complete return to normality when it comes to nationwide office working. It’s important that you focus on good working practices as soon as possible, if you would like any chance of undoing the months of poor posture that is or will soon be causing you problems.

What are the common musculoskeletal problems from home working?

Even though musculoskeletal disorders are preventable, they are on the rise due to the poor ergonomic practices of homeworkers during the pandemic. The way we sit, lie or stand for long periods of time whilst we work can affect the human body’s movement or musculoskeletal system – which is anything to do with the muscles, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, bones, nerves and discs.

The common MSK issues include:

  • Shoulder pain – caused by hunched shoulders
  • Tension headaches – caused by squinting, poor posture, lack of physical activity, bright sunlight, excessive noise, and stress
  • Neck pain – caused by poor posture, hunched shoulders, periods of time at a strained position, lack of movement
  • Back pain – caused by poor posture, lack of physical activity, improper position of spinal joints, injury to the muscle or ligaments
  • Eye strain – monitor positioning, poor environmental elements such as lighting
  • Wrist, hand or arm pain – poor posture, strained movement

Best ergonomic practices for home workers

Maintain a good posture

One of the most important factors in preventing musculoskeletal problems is to maintain the right posture whilst working. Many of us have come accustomed to working wherever feels the most comfortable or practical, whether this be on the sofa, at the kitchen table or even sitting on the floor. The problem with these positions is that they don’t support the natural curve of the spine and keeps your body in good alignment. If you spend long periods of time in these unsupported postures, it can cause short and long term issues when it comes to your musculoskeletal system.

Ergonomic practices:

  • Sit with your feet flat on the floor
  • Use a suitable chair with lumbar support (or use a lumbar cushion)
  • Your back should maintain contact with the chair back
  • Keep your spine upright and straight, and your head in line with your spine
  • Have your computer / laptop positioned straight in front of you
  • Your chair height should be positioned so you can use the keyboard with your wrists and forearms straight and level with the floor.
  • Your elbows should land at the same height as the table
  • Your screen should be eye level
  • Keep your mouse close and keyboard straight in front of you

You should follow the above guidelines where you can – if your home working situation means you are unable to follow ergonomic practices, consider speaking to your employer about borrowing furniture from the office or helping to invest in new equipment. They have a duty of care to make sure you are physically healthy whilst working for them.

Take regular breaks

Sitting in the same position for extended periods of time is damaging for the body, whether you are in the office or at home. You should be taking short but regular breaks throughout the day, away from the screen and from your workstation. We recommend taking a two minute break every 30 minutes, whether this is to walk around the garden or go to make a tea or coffee. This will not only get your body up and moving to help circulation, but will help reduce your risk of developing a musculoskeletal problem. It also helps your eyes to look away at something a different distance to the screen to reduce eye strain.

Do home exercises that are aimed at preventing and managing MSKs

One of the biggest issues with working at home is our inactivity. The common reaction to a busy workload is to sit for as long as possible until the task is complete. If you’re sitting for extended lengths at your computer, it can really help to do some simple and easy exercises to help reduce the risk of issues caused by prolonged sitting positions.

The NHS have created some handy exercise guides for different parts of the body, which you can find here:

Get in touch with us

If you would like further information about ergonomics at work or would like to inquire about a personal workstation assessment for you or your employees home environment, get in touch with our team of occupational health advisors. We’re here to help!

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