A woman looks down at her laptop while working. A woman looks down at her laptop while working.

Working from home? Protect your neck and back with these 4 tips.

Are you sitting up straight? Is your monitor at eye level? When’s the last time you got up? Or stretched?

Due to COVID-19, it feels like screen time is at an all-time high — especially for those working from home. Combined with makeshift home office setups, this can really hurt your body — particularly your neck and back.

You probably know that sitting for extended periods of time can damage your health. But sitting in the wrong position for extended periods can also cause painful injuries over time. The trouble is, when you’re working, you’re often absorbed in the task at hand. So, you don’t necessarily notice subtle pain starting in your neck or back from looking down for too long or reaching too far for the computer mouse. By the time you do realize it, it’s often too late.

To help you avoid neck and back pain, here are some tips to try while working from home.

1. Properly position your workstation

The first step to avoiding neck and back pain while working from home is to make sure your work equipment is set up to ergonomically, which means aligning it with your body’s needs.

If you’re at home and working on a computer for long periods throughout the day, you’ll want to use the following ergonomic best practices for setting up your workstation.

  • Avoid eye and neck strain by positioning your computer monitor at eye level, about an arm’s length away.
  • Avoid lower back pain by using a chair with a soft, breathable, padded seat and a lumbar support cushion for added stability. When you need to sit, make sure you’re seated all the way back on the seat. You’ll also want a chair that has wheels so you can easily move around (5 wheels per chair for stability).

If you’re using a stand-up desk, you’ll also want to invest in an anti-fatigue floor mat to take some of the pressure off your legs and back while you stand.

  • Avoid general strain while seated by positioning your body so your:
    • Thighs are parallel to the floor
    • Feet are resting flat on the floor or on a footrest
    • Arms are resting on your chair’s armrests at a 90-degree angle (ensuring you’re not hunching your shoulders)
    • Knees fit under your desk
  • Avoid strain due to stretching and overreaching by keeping all items you need to do your job — like keyboard, mouse, paper, pen, etc. — close to you.

2. Improve your posture

Drooping shoulders can put a strain on your neck and back. Whether you’re seated or standing, make sure your shoulders are back and your spine is straight. If you’re having trouble correcting your posture on your own, consider using a posture corrector (an adjustable brace you can wear) to retrain your body and muscles.

3. Check in with your body

An ergonomic workstation is a great start, but you’ll want to be mindful of what your body is telling you throughout the day. Set a timer to check in with yourself and see how you’re feeling. During these check-ins, close your eyes and do a mental scan of your body from head to toe. Notice any pain? Cramping? Are you still sitting properly, with your feet flat on the floor and your back straight? If anything feels off, take a moment to stretch, reset, and readjust.

4. Keep moving

The issue isn’t just sitting; it’s staying in one position for too long. Freezing in one position can cause poor blood flow and weaken muscles that help you keep your balance. This can then lead to strain and injury.

Even people who use stand-up desks while working can experience issues. According to a study by the journal Ergonomics, participants who experienced 2 hours of prolonged standing felt an increase in discomfort in all body areas, in addition to a decrease in mental wellness.

Your goal is to keep moving throughout the day to keep your muscles engaged and active. Here are a few ways you can sneak more movement into your workday:

  • Schedule reminders to get up and stretch once an hour.
  • Get an adjustable standing desk so you can easily go from sitting to standing to sitting again while you work throughout the day.
  • If possible, go for a walk during meetings or phone calls.
  • Use a step tracker to make sure you’re getting in enough steps throughout the day.
  • Invest in a wobble seat that encourages active sitting while seated for long periods of time.

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