Whether you’re hunched over the dining room table, cradling your laptop from your half-sitting-half-lying-down position from the sofa or even using an ironing board as a standing desk, our new working from home situation is causing havoc to our posture. And let’s face it, bad posture and back pain were a reality for many people long before we were forced into a pandemic-driven lockdown.
Ten Health & Fitness, London’s leading reformer Pilates brand and home to expert physios and massage therapists, is on hand to deliver some key moves and tips on how to avoid crippling back pain whilst WFH during self-isolation.
Granted, the 60 square meters around your studio apartment may not seem like a big space to keep moving around in but Ten’s experts strongly recommend regular movement intervals to help combat negative changes from prolonged periods of sitting. Cheyne Voss, Head of Physio at Ten says; “Every time you get up, it’s a chance for your body to reset. Try walking whilst taking a phone call or doing some shoulder rolls as you go to put the kettle on. Little bursts of movement are better than long periods of sedentary sitting.”
Keep it level
A big contributor to back and neck pain is flexion due to looking down at our screens. Your screen should be at a level where the top is at—or slightly below—eye level and therefore you should only look slightly downward when viewing the middle of the screen. Equally, your laptop or monitor should be about an arm’s length away from you in distance and your elbows should be at a perfect 90 degrees when typing. To achieve both the correct height of the screen, and keyboard position, you really need to use a USB keyboard/mouse, and have the laptop propped up on a book or a ‘laptop stand’ “These are essential tips for keeping in an upright posture and putting as little extra pressure on your shoulders, neck and back as possible.” Voss comments.
Alternate the sit and stand approach
The common misconception is that standing desks are better than sitting at a desk. The truth is, both have their merits but it’s mostly about balance. Voss comments: “The duration of any position is the biggest risk factor, so just like sitting for too long, using a standing desk for too long also presents a number of issues. Alternating between the two – with good form in each. This means sitting as upright as possible when seated and keeping both feet equally weighted on the floor directly beneath you when standing”
Be mindful of your WFH fitness choices
You’ve been sitting down most of the day, hammering away at your emails and spending hours crouched over your laptop for the daily zoom-call – so there’s a real musculoskeletal impact to all that screen time. The best way to counter-act all this is through exercise. Voss warns; “By not exercising, the negative changes continue to get worse in a vicious cycle. A lack of core strength, hip, pelvic and spinal mobility and possible degenerative changes leave you at a much higher risk of injury anywhere along lower limb or trunk.”
Exercise is vital but it’s also about the right kind of exercise. Although doing a high-impact HIIT session in your living room or garden may let off some steam, the poor form from not having an instructor present can affect you negatively too. In particular for the back, the best kind of exercise is core control, and then strength. Pilates is the answer to this in more ways than one. “Pilates teaches isolated control to certain muscles and is a brilliant way of integrating this control into more functional movement patterns.” So next time you roll out the workout mat, consider a low-impact but still highly effective Pilates or barre session virtually instead of a high-impact HIIT one. Your back will thank you later.
Sleep it off
Different mattresses are a common complaint for back issues. Typically, a firmer mattress offers more support and allows you to wake up fresh. Voss recommends the flip technique; “If you find you’re stiff and achy in the mornings, try flipping your mattress. Over time, we leave quite the imprint on our mattress – so flip it for a new area to lie down on and then remember to turn it over regularly. The right mattress should always be partnered with a good pillow. Feather ones feel nice, but a firmer foam one is often better for you, I highly recommend the Tempur original contour memory foam pillow.”