As the worst rail strikes in 30 years begin to unfold, we are all back to working from home once again. And it seems that despite a gradual shift to hybrid work since the pandemic, we still don’t have our work-from-home setup as tidy as it could be.
A new report from Leeds University Business School on working from home and its pros and cons found that only 37.5% of home workers have a dedicated work-from-home setup. Nearly a fifth of respondents were working at a kitchen table, 7.8% were working in a room that had no table or desk, and 5.8% admitted they still spent at least some time working on their beds.
The problem with this lack of a proper workspace is that it can have serious harmful effects on the body, especially if it becomes a habit. “Looking down too long can contribute to neck strain and pain,” says Marc Holl, head of primary care and former head of physical therapy at Nuffield Health. “If you’re not holding your head properly, you could be straining your eyes because you’re using eye movements instead of using your neck, which is stronger. If you don’t have peripherals like a USB keyboard and mouse, it’s best to keep your laptop on a flat surface. You don’t want your arms floating in the air on the keyboard as that can put strain on your wrists.”
It’s also worth investing in a decent chair. “A good ergonomic chair is made in such a way that it makes you feel more postural, so the height of the chair means you can have your forearms on the table with the screen at eye level,” explains Kerrie-Anne Bradley. , founder of Pilates At Your Desk and specialist in functional movement. “That’s more difficult when you don’t have a chair and a table; If you’re working at a coffee table or sofa, you’re looking at the screen, not eye level, you’re less likely to be sitting in such a way that it stacks your bones in your neutral position.”
You don’t have to pay a fortune for anything specialized, though, says Holl. “If you’re temporarily working from home, there’s no need to buy an expensive ergonomic chair,” he says. “Just make sure the chair you have has a straight back and is comfortable. Try using a towel wrapped around the curve of your lower back if that is more comfortable for you.” For those looking for something more specialized, the Telegraph’s expert testers recommend Herman Miller and SIHOO as brands to choose from.
Of course, even with a proper table and chair, sitting down is something of anathema to the human body. In 2014, Dr. James Levine, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, told the LA Times that “sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than skydiving. We are sitting to death. The chair is ready to kill us.”
But if the chair is bad for your health, the sofa or bed is even worse. In the absence of a table or chair, you are less likely to sit in such a way that you create balance throughout your body. “When you’re sitting in a chair, the bones that line up with the bottom of your pelvis will be in a neutral position, and then the rest of your spine will be stacked more neutrally on top of that,” says Bradley. “When you’re on the couch or sitting on the bed, you’re less likely to be sitting up, you’re more croissant-shaped with your butt tucked in, so there’s an imbalance between the front and back of the body that can cause lower back pain, sore hips, sore shoulders, sore neck and neck pain. ”
Bradley also notes that there are other systems in the body, such as the pelvic floor, that cannot function optimally if you are not sitting upright. “Also, sitting down is also a low-energy position; you’re not burning as many calories to stay upright, which has obvious long-term implications,” she says.
Breathing is another system that doesn’t work as it should if you sit in this ‘croissant’ position, says Aimee Brame, a medical consultant at London Bridge Hospital. During the pandemic, many people were coming into her clinic with “dysfunctional disordered breathing. It’s a problem people have with the way they breathe. It’s not a problem they have with their lungs or anything else. For a number of different reasons, people breathe ineffectively.”
Workplaces that aren’t set up properly, including kitchens and bedrooms, explains Dr. Brame, can cause people to develop musculoskeletal problems; they sit ineffectively, not giving their diaphragms enough room, so they start using unusual methods to try to maintain a comfortable breathing pattern, and their muscles learn to continue to do this over the long term, which affects breathing.
If you’re not breathing properly, it can cause the body to feel constant low-level stress. “It’s not just breathing and oxygenation, but it’s the whole fight-or-flight response you get as a result of stress and anxiety,” says Dr. brame. “Everything starts to slow down as you slow down your breathing, calm down and take a proper deep breath.”
Bad posture can be corrected, says Dr. Brame, but once postural problems take root in the long run, for example working from home for a while, it becomes harder to unlearn them.
A much talked about solution to the sitting crisis is the standing desk. You can buy them relatively cheaply (the ‘Trotten’ adjustable table is £180 at IKEA) and you’re likely to find some benefit: evidence shows the human body burns more calories standing than sitting. As for posture, however, the research is not so clear. A 2018 study from Curtin University in Australia found that standing desks led to increased back pain and back pain in those who used them for about two hours. The problem, the researchers concluded, is that those who have poor posture for a long time sitting also have poor standing posture — shoulders forward, back hunched — and, in fact, standing can exacerbate these problems rather than correct them. them.
“The main message here is that it’s best to move between positions throughout the day when chained to your desk,” says Sarah Davies, a consultant in Musculoskeletal, Sport and Exercise Medicine at the Institute of Sport, Exercise & Health (ISEH). “By moving more consistently and frequently from a prolonged static sitting position, you prevent the spine from establishing itself in a position that is healthier for the soft (ligaments and cartilage) and hard (bone) tissues of the spine and which should cause less back pain. short and long term”.
“All physical therapists will agree that every twenty minutes you need to get up and move around, even if you are still on a conference call, a Skype call or a phone call,” adds Holl. Stretching is also important. “Put your hands on your glutes [bottom] and lean back to look at the ceiling, only to stretch in the opposite direction from where they were probably sitting. I also recommend ‘deskercise’: knees to chest, ankles over opposite knee to stretch hips, arms to the ceiling, then to the side, then back.”
Ultimately though, a chair with a back will always beat ‘Netflix slouch’. Office enthusiasts might not be surprised to learn that in addition to health issues, research from the University of Leeds has found that not having a proper workspace is associated with lower performance, job satisfaction and engagement.
How to have healthy homework
Make sure the screen is at eye level to avoid straining your neck muscles
Keep your laptop on a flat surface to avoid wrist strain
Sit upright (preferably in a chair with lumbar support) to keep the vertebrae in your spine as straight as possible. This will help prevent back pain, sore hips, and sore shoulders and neck.
Breathe properly, with your diaphragm and not your shoulders
Stand up straight and move as much as possible. At the very least, try to do 250 steps every hour.
Simple yoga stretches like ‘cow to cat’ as well as basic exercises like push ups or planks can help keep you sitting upright
Memory foam foot pads and footrests help improve posture and relieve lower back pressure
Move as much as possible, even if it’s simply getting up to fill your coffee cup or walking around whenever you’re on the phone.
If you don’t have a chair with lumbar support, roll up a towel and place it behind your back (in the curve of your spine) for additional support.