How to look after your posture and back when working from home
It’s week three of official lockdown, which means most of us have been working from home for a while.
Of course, there are definite perks to working from home: the comfy loungewear, the endless snacks and the lie ins, but the lack of office equipment can cause problems – mainly for posture.
Deprived of proper office chairs and a desk fixed at the right height, many of us are suffering with back, neck and shoulder stiffness – which, if goes on for too long, could cause serious problems in future.
But this can all be avoided with some simple adjustments – so we asked experts to share their tips on how to keep posture in check.
Have a dedicated work space
Jonathan Scattergood, occupational health physiotherapy lead at Ascenti, says it’s important to have a regular office set-up – with everything in the correct position – much like your office desk.
He tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Over the last few weeks millions of us have set up improvised workspaces using the likes of coffee tables, garden furniture and dining chairs and, while it’s hard not to admire the creativity, some of these set-ups are playing havoc with our posture and could have a significant impact on our bodies.
‘It’s important to have a dedicated workspace. The temptation to slouch on the couch or even work from the bed might be strong, but this will put a real strain on your body and likely lead to aches, pains and injury further down the road, especially if done regularly.
‘Making the right adjustments now will not only prevent that, it will also lead to a more comfortable and productive home-working space.’
The right seat
Jonathan says seating is key to good posture, as a good chair will help to align your body.
He adds: ‘Many of us don’t have the luxury of an adjustable office chair. If you’re working out of the dining room then the combination of a higher table and lower chairs will cause you to overstretch or slouch, causing pain in your neck, shoulders and back and putting pressure on your wrists.
‘Raising your height with cushions and adding a box as a footrest can help you to achieve the ideal position. Try to avoid crossing your legs, too, as that can cause a whole host of posture problems.’
Jonathan adds that you can recreate the effect of a support chair by placing a rolled up towel or cushion between your lower back and the backrest.
Jonathan says that if your computer or laptop screen is below eye level then it’s likely hunching will occur. This can result in numerous posture problems.
He says: ‘In an ideal world you’d have an adjustable stand, but if that’s not possible you can substitute a sturdy box or book to raise your screen up. You’ll then need to connect it to an external keyboard – a cheap one will do – so that you can place this at a height where you can use it with your wrists in neutral.
‘Keeping the keyboard and an external mouse close to your body will prevent you from stretching too far forwards and will encourage you to sit up straight.’
Make your own standing desk
A standing desk it also a great way to take the pressure off your back and shoulders.
Jonathan says: ‘It’s never a good idea to stay in one position for too long, so even if you have the perfect desk set-up then spending short periods in different places to vary your posture can be beneficial.
‘A kitchen counter can make a perfect standing desk to mix up your posture and keep the different muscles in use. You’ll just need to raise up your laptop so it’s at eye-height and ensure your elbows are bent at 90 degrees.’
One of the best things for posture is to move regularly, says Jonathan – especially due to the fact that we are a lot less active at the moment.
He adds: ‘You’ll see bigger benefits from frequent short breaks over fewer longer ones, so get up to stretch and move every 20 minutes if you can and at least once per hour.
‘If you’re busy with work then it’s all too easy for the time to pass without you noticing, so setting a digital reminder on your phone can be useful in helping you to achieve that regular movement.’
Make your body soft and tall
Esther Miltiadou, a spokesperson for posture experts Alexander Technique, advises that it’s best to make our bodies soft (rather than rigid) and tall (as opposed to slumped) when we work at a desk.
She says: ‘People tend to alternate between two extremes: either slumping and head pulled forward towards the screen or bracing into a “military style” posture, with shoulders back and chest out, trying to sit up straight.
‘Both are not very great for our bodies.
‘Finding the middle-ground between the two makes life easier. To do this, imagine your torso being supported by your spine and deep postural muscles and release your tummy muscles without slumping. Imagine that your head is very lightly balancing on the top of your spine.’
It might sound obvious but stretching is a great way to loosen the body after a day of rigid working.
Chiara Becuti, a pilates instructor at FLY LDN, has three exercises to help ease stiffness – which should be done in the following order:
Chiara says: ‘Tilt your head towards your shoulder and gently pull on the side of the head using the opposite hand. Hold there for a while before repeating on the other side.
‘The focus should be on pushing the shoulder away from the ear as we tend to elevate the shoulders when we’re sat in front of our laptops for long periods of time. It’s important to remind the shoulders where their position should be and to re-mobilise the neck, which often gets stuck in between them.’
Starfish through the door
She adds; ‘Walk through an open door with your arms open and press the hands against either side of the door frame, slightly lower than shoulder height.
‘This is a great stretch for the pectoral muscles which become tight when slouched forward and it allows the back to be in charge of your posture.’
Spine twist stretch from supine position
Chiara adds: ‘Lay down on a mat or a towel and pull one knee into the chest, then pull it over towards the opposite side of the mat or towel. Hold there, keeping the hand on the outside of the knee and then repeat on the other side.
‘This exercise will stretch out your lower back which compresses as you sit down for long hours.’
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