You can help avoid computer-related injuries with a proper workstation, better posture and good working habits. We’ve put together a few simple posture correction exercises to help banish those pesky aches and pains.
For many of us, working from home has become the new normal. Sure it has its perks—rolling out of bed 10 minutes before you’re due to start work, rocking loungewear, having access to your entire fridge whenever you want it, and not to mention the joy of not having to fight your way onto busy and unpleasant public transport. However, as very few of us are fortunate enough to have a proper home office, we have no choice but to work (with laptops resting on our legs) on the sofa, at unsuitable tables and even in bed (usually in the recline position). But is this really good for our posture longer term? We’re going to give you some tips on how to work from home safely, and share some key exercises to help improve your posture.
What are the challenges of working from home?
Millions of people worldwide are now working from home. But with many doing it for the first time, some may find it more difficult than others. It just doesn’t come naturally to some people, especially if you’re someone who likes routine, or has been used to a certain office, desk and way of working for the last 20 years or more. You may feel disconnected from your work colleagues, find it hard to concentrate or even struggle with the technology you need to be able to do your job properly. But you’re not alone. Here are just some of the many challenges of working from home:
- Struggling to manage your own schedule/time
- Feeling like you can’t switch off (living and working in the same environment)
- Too many distractions (housework, TV, other half)
- Juggling work and parenting
- Less supervision and direction
- Lack of social interaction
- Finding it difficult to stay motivated
Recognising these challenges early on will make it easier to mitigate them, which will make working from home that little bit easier.
What are the health risks of working from home?
Aside from some of the challenges of working remotely, working in an unsuitable environment comes with health risks too. Working at a computer, especially on the sofa or in bed can cause the following problems:
- Long term issues with posture
- Back, neck and shoulder pain
- Headaches (poor ventilation)
- Eyestrain (wrong lighting/too much screen glare)
- Overuse injuries (arms/hands)
- Stress and mental health issues
Back and neck pain, headaches and shoulder pain are common computer-related health problems. Muscle and joint pain can be caused or made worse by a poor workstation (desk) and bad posture. And sitting for long periods of time reduces the circulation of blood to your muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments, leading to further pain and discomfort.
How can I work from home safely?
A computer is a vital tool for many, but long periods of working at a computer—especially at an inappropriate workstation—can increase your chance of developing muscle and joint pain, headaches and eyestrain. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to help reduce injury and posture problems while working from home:
- Ensure you have plenty of natural light. Though make sure any light sources are not shining onto your face or directly onto the computer screen. Tilt the screen slightly to avoid reflections or glare, and make sure the screen is not too close to your face so you don’t get eyestrain. Position the screen at eye level (or slightly lower), and reduce the contrast and brightness until they’re at a comfortable level.
- Sit at a suitable desk. Ideally your desk and chair should be height-adjustable so you can find a comfortable working position, and the desk should be specially designed for use with computers. Consider using an ergonomic chair, which is designed to help your spine hold its natural curve while sitting. And an ergonomic keyboard allows your hands and wrists to be in a more natural position.
- Ensure you’re sitting in the right position. Whenever you’re at your desk, you should be seated in the 90-90-90 position, with elbows bent at a 90-degree angle, your hips should be at a 90-degree angle, and your knees should be at a 90-degree angle. Your keyboard should be at a height that lets your elbows rest comfortably at your sides, and your forearms should be roughly parallel to the floor and level with the keyboard. Your feet should rest flat on the floor (or use a footstool).
- Use a desktop over a laptop. But if you must use a laptop, don’t be tempted to slip back into working on your bed or sofa. Neither of which are good for your posture. Work at a desk, and use a docking station, as well as a separate keyboard and mouse to avoid incorrect positioning and overuse injuries. And if you do need to go to the office for meetings from time to time, you should carry your laptop in a backpack or in wheel-along luggage so you don’t put too much strain on your back.
- Take frequent breaks. Several short breaks are better than 1 long one. Eat, drink, go for a walk or do some stretches to help your posture. And it’s important to stand often. Look away from the screen frequently (and focus on distant objects), and have regular eye examinations to check no long term damage is being done by working at the computer.
We’ve all had to adjust to new ways of working, and feeling stressed and anxious is completely normal. Though following these simple tips can help you to feel more productive and could improve your mental health when working at home:
- Make a dedicated workspace (with a suitable desk)
- Set and stick to a routine (for a better work/life balance)
- Switch off your computer at the end of the day and enjoy family time
- Make time for breaks (and fresh air)
- Stay in touch with your colleagues (a catch up on a phone/video call may be better than an email)
And most importantly, be kind to yourself! You might not be as productive when working from home, and that’s OK. Be realistic about what you can achieve, and reward yourself for a good job well done.
What posture correction exercises can I do?
If you’re working at a computer at home all day, it’s important to have good posture to prevent aches and pains. Sitting down for long periods of time can cause muscle tension, fortunately there are some good strength and stretching posture exercises to help you work more comfortably. And they can all be done at home, so you don’t need to exercise in a gym, or outside in the cold, wet weather.
Problem: Slouching in a chair
The strain of slouching at your desk may increase tension in your muscles, which in the long term, could lead to pain and discomfort. Get into the habit of sitting correctly, and use exercises to improve posture.
Exercises to strengthen your core and the gluteal muscles (buttocks), and back extensions, will help correct a slouching posture.
Exercise 1: Plank
Get into a pushup position, bend your elbows and rest your weight on your forearms. Your elbows should be directly beneath your shoulders and your body should form a straight line from your head to your feet. Hold this position for as long as you can. Ideally aim to do 3 sets of 45 seconds (you may need to build up to this).
Exercise 2: Back extensions
Your lower back muscles stabilise the spine and contribute to a healthy posture. There are several ways to do these exercises, so choose the method that works best with your strength and ability. But if you’re a beginner, start with a basic back extension, done slowly and with control.
Lie on a yoga mat on your stomach and straighten your legs out behind you. Stretch your arms out in front, and lift your arms, upper back and legs as far as you can. Keep your hips pressed into the mat, and keep your head and neck neutral. Hold for 10 seconds, and repeat 3 times.
Exercise 3: Bridges
This is a great exercise for your buttocks and lower back. Lie on your back with your knees bent and heels close to your bottom. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart and flat on the floor. Raise your hips to create a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. As you come up, tighten your abs and glutes. Lower yourself gently to the starting position, and repeat 8 times.
Problem: Hunched back and neck
Hunching over your keyboard could indicate a tight chest or a weak upper back. Over time, this poor posture can lead to a rounded upper back, with shoulder and upper back stiffness.
Upper back, neck and rear shoulder strengthening exercises and chest stretches can help correct a hunched back.
Exercise 1: Pull-ups
You’ll need a pull-up bar to do this exercise at home. Jump up and grip the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart and your palms facing away from you. Hang with your arms fully extended, keeping your shoulders back and your core engaged throughout. Then pull up. Move slowly upward until your chin is above the bar, then slowly downward until your arms are extended again. Aim for 5 pull-ups.
Exercise 2: Close grip row
Resistance bands are great for a variety of exercises. Anchor your band around a stable object at roughly chest height. Hold with a close grip (hands facing each other), and walk back a few feet until you feel moderate tension on the band. Extend your arms, and place your feet shoulder-width apart with a slight bend in your knees. Keeping your head up, shoulders back, chest out, back straight, and abs tight, slowly pull the band toward the sides of your torso while squeezing your shoulder blades. Slowly resist the band until your arms are fully extended. Complete 3 sets of 15 repetitions.
Exercise 3: Chest stretches
Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Interlock your fingers behind your back, with your palms facing up. Draw your shoulders back and down, keeping your arms straight (be careful not to arch your back). You should feel a stretch across your chest and the front of your shoulders. Perform this stretch slowly and hold for 15 seconds. Repeat 3 times.
Problem: Computer neck
This posture—also known as the poking chin, or forward head posture—can be caused by sitting too low, or having your computer screen too high. This can increase the workload for many of the muscles attached to the cervical spine, which holds your head up. Over time, this can lead to muscle imbalance. Some muscles become elongated and weakened, and other muscles become shorter and tighter.
Simple exercises that strengthen and stretch the muscles around the neck, back and shoulders can be effective at improving this posture.
Exercise 1: Chin tuck
This is quick and easy to do, and it will help strengthen your upper thoracic extensors (the muscles that align your head over your shoulders). Stand with your upper back against the wall, feet shoulder-width apart. Face forward, tuck your chin down, and pull your head back until it touches the wall. Hold the stretch for 5 seconds, and repeat 10 times.
Exercise 2: Corner stretch
This provides a deep stretch of the chest and shoulders to help maintain good posture. Face a corner of a room and place your forearms against each wall with your elbows slightly below shoulder-height. Lean forward until you feel a stretch in your chest, and hold for up to a minute.
Exercise 3: Upper Trapezius Stretch
This will stretch out the neck and upper back muscles. Sit on a chair and place your right hand on the left hand side of your head. Now bring your head down toward your shoulder. Use the hand overhead to press your neck down to get a deeper stretch (but don’t press too hard). Hold for 20 seconds and do 3 sets.
How can yoga and Pilates help to correct posture?
Yoga and Pilates can also help to straighten the back and loosen the hips after a long day spent working at a computer. It’s important to stretch for a few minutes every day if you can, and a yoga mat is a useful accessory to perform your exercises and stretches on. Practising yoga will help you with flexibility and breathing, and Pilates lengthens and stretches all the major muscle groups to keep everything balanced. Both yoga and Pilates help to improve muscular and postural strength too, which is essential in being able to perform other exercises.
It’s so important to practice good posture when you work on the computer at home. Maintaining proper spine alignment is essential to prevent long-term injuries and conditions, so you can live a healthier and more active life.