Working from home could be a pain in the neck — literally
With many New Jerseyans working from home for months during the COVID-19 pandemic, there's a situation that's likely to continue: back and neck injuries from not sitting properly.
A recent Bloomberg study found that 71% of people working from home are experiencing a new and worsening ailment caused by their new work set-up. Some common symptoms include back and neck pain and poor posture.
Dr. Rahul Shah, orthopedic spine and neck surgeon in South Jersey, said he's been seeing a lot of patients with pulled and irritated muscles, cricks in their necks and backs.
They've been sitting for long periods of time on their couches, sofas and beds where it's easier to work, but he said by doing so, they're rounding their shoulders and lower backs and flexing their hips, causing undue pressure on muscles that are not normally able to tolerate that strain.
However, the pain in the neck and back is hard to distinguish whether it's coming from the devices that people are working, how they're using the devices or the location where they are using those devices. Everything has been shuffled up in a kaleidoscope since everyone has basically been forced to work at home, he said.
When someone is sitting on a couch or bed, she feels fine. It's after they stop working when they'll feel stiffness or tightness in their back and neck. Shah said when someone is working, all that person is doing is paying attention to what they're working on. Shah said that then takes away a person's attention from the rest of the way the body is moving or the way the muscles are being stretched or tensed or being used in a manner they're not used to moving.
Think about where you used to work and try to replicate that environment at home, said Shah. If you used to sit in a hard chair, sit in a chair at home, not a couch or a bed. If you used to work at a desk and you don't have a desk at home, then sit at the kitchen table. This will help to improve posture.
Also Shah said he can't stress enough how important it is to increase physical activity to keep muscles loose. He said he doesn't care if that means doing steps, taking small laps around your house or apartment or just going up and down a flight of stairs.
"If you can start to get all of your muscles working to be able to move, your muscles are going to find their own natural ability to carry your head over your pelvis in a way that's manageable for you and activate the muscles," Shah said.
To improve neck strength, he said it's important to look up from the computer from time to time. With regards to the back, changing positions is recommended every 25 to 30 minutes. Breaking work up with small walks to get the heart rate up during the transition is also something Shah recommends.
If you still feel that gnawing crick in the back and neck after a long, hard day, Shah suggested applying local heat and ice alternately to the spots. This will help increase the blood flow to those areas.