There are three easy ways to prevent back pain when working from home: adjusting your chair, switching to a standing workstation, and stretching.
Adjust your chair and monitor
This is the first and easiest safeguard for your back and spine health when working from home is correctly positioning your workstation. This starts with making sure your chair and working surface—desk or kitchen table—are the correct height for your body. Ideally, your body should be positioned at 90-degree angles: shoulders and arms to hands, torso and hips to thighs, thighs and knees to calves with your feet flat on the floor.
In choosing a chair, make sure it’s adjusted for maximum comfort while sitting. If your chair lacks lumbar support, roll up a small hand towel and stick it in the space where your lower back meets the base of the chair. Again, when seated, make sure that your back is straight and your shoulders upright.
Your monitor should be at eye level. Achieve this by purchasing a monitor or laptop stand or propping your laptop up on a sturdy box or a few books. Positioning your screen at eye level prevents pressure to the cervical spine (the base of your head to the top of your shoulders) which creates neck, shoulder, and upper back pain. Studies have shown that when the head rests at a 15-to-30-degree angle, like that of laptops positioned on flat surfaces, the amount of pressure placed on the cervical spine caused by gravitational pull is between 27 and 40 pounds of pressure. This is the equivalent of having an average 2-year-old to 5-year-old resting on your neck and shoulders for the duration of the time you’re in the position.
An exercise ball is an alternative to an office chair. Sitting on a quality exercise ball forces your core to engage, which keeps a natural curve in your back while helping you or maintain proper sitting posture.
An additional tip to help with posture is to take your conference calls or video conferences standing. This prevents Zoom Neck, another COVID condition by which users of video conferencing platforms gradually lean more and more forward towards the screen as the conference progresses, which can cause back pain.
Switch to a standing workstation
Break up your workday by standing up to complete some of your tasks. Standing while working is healthy for your lower back, reduces stress on your neck, and forces you to maintain proper posture. Wearing comfortable shoes or having padding beneath your feet—like a mat—also helps your knees, hips, and lower back from fatiguing as rapidly by being gentle on your joints. If you have a standing desk, adjust the height to allow your monitor to be at eye level and your keyboard to at elbow height. If you’re using a countertop, you can use the same measures to prop up your workspace that you did for your normal desk. Try standing for 20-30 minutes your first time. Set a timer and when it goes off, move around, stretch your arms, legs, back, neck, and eyes.
Whether sitting or standing for work, stretching needs to be an ongoing practice to prevent back pain when working from home. Stretch these areas at least once every 60-90 minutes:
- shoulders and upper back
- lower back
- hip flexors
Get a complete list of ergonomic stretches to do at home here.
While it’s unknown how much longer many people will work from home, what remains important is ensuring that home offices are ergonomic to prevent or lessen back pain. Taking the time to set up your workstation and making sure you take the proper number of breaks to move your body and stretch your muscles is important to long-term back and spine health. And when you return to your work environment, the routine you created at home can be implemented at your office too.