While my home is always my office, I don’t normally work from home all day every day. When my county enacted strict social distancing orders, I went from the hustle and bustle of going to meetings, taking a gym break in the middle of the day, and going on long walks to the library, to working at my desk all day every day. It didn’t take long for me to start feeling uncomfortable or for my husband to point out that my posture was horrifyingly crooked during the workday. Good posture has never been my strong suit, and working from home for three months straight hasn’t helped.
I know I’m not the only one who has struggled with their work from home setup as of late, and sore necks and headaches are not OK, so I chatted with Dr. Danielle Olson on all things posture and how we can improve ours while working from home. Spoiler alert: it’s pretty darn important to straighten up!
The Role Posture Plays
Some of the signs of bad posture are immediate, AKA back, shoulder, and neck pain. Others are far off in the distance, such as not being able to stand up straight when you’re older. Dr. Olson warned us of other effects of bad posture that range from physical to emotional. “Sore, tired, tight muscles cause us to not feel well, which can make us cranky and short-tempered. The negative side effects of having poor posture could cause digestive issues, headaches, shoulder pain, and even breathing difficulties,” Dr. Olson said. She explained that having good posture helps our bodies age gracefully, which is something most would likely aspire to.
Set Up Your Workspace
Many workers were thrust into working from home with little warning, so it comes as no surprise that their home office spaces weren’t set up for success. When it comes to creating an ideal work environment, Dr. Olson believes it is important to find a workspace where there is plenty of natural light and to use a desk chair that is supportive and can be individually adjusted to fit. She also recommended considering using a stand-up desk. Having the right tools such as a supportive desk chair is important, but accessories like headsets (for those who talk on the phone a lot) or a brace such as the BackEmbrace, which Dr. Olson recommended wearing periodically throughout the day, can help too.
A less expected tool that can make all the difference is a glass of water. Dr. Olson suggested those working from home come up with a plan to stay hydrated. “I have found it helpful to pour a glass of water and place it across the room on a table so that I have to get up to go drink it. I then fill it back up, put it back on my table, and then do this often throughout the day,” Dr. Olson said.
Break Up Your Day with Movement
For a little more background on why getting up to get that glass of water is so key, movement can do wonders for offsetting any posture mistakes you’re making, as well as being generally beneficial. “Humans are meant to move, so getting up and moving around is helpful to increase the circulation so that the muscles don’t tighten up. It is also beneficial to improve lymphatic flow, a very important thing for keeping our immune systems strong,” Dr. Olson said.
Taking brisk walks throughout the day, and after your workday ends, can be extremely beneficial, as are stretches like the cat-cow yoga pose. Dr. Olson also recommended a Qigong exercise called “Standing at the Stake.” “This exercise is done in a standing position with your heels together and your toes pointed out at an angle,” Dr. Olson said. “Interlace your fingers together behind your back and then rise up on your toes, being sure to keep your heels together. Visualize and feel the Qi coming from the Earth through your feet and up through your body. As the Qi flows, lift your arms away from your body and enjoy the openness of your chest and the harnessing of the power for you.” If it is difficult for you to maintain your stance, she suggests leaning gently against a chair or table.
The Easy Posture Mistakes to Make
Some cases of bad posture are easier to notice than others, but the computer can cause us to develop some pretty unhealthy habits that are less noticeable but equally damaging. Dr. Olson noted that staring at the computer screen for excessive periods of time causes the SCM muscles to contract on the front of the neck, which then causes the antagonistic muscles on the back of the neck and into the traps to contract.
One of the biggest posture mistakes Dr. Olson witnesses is a soothing tactic that can do much more harm than good; sitting on a dining room chair and stretching your spines over the backrest. “I have seen multiple patients that have pushed the vertebra between their shoulder blades so far forward that they have given themselves acid reflux.” In the office, doing this is less tempting, as there are properly-fitted office chairs that stop the impulse to arch back over the chair. She also explained another benefit of office work is much-needed distractions. “At an office, workers are often interrupted by other co-workers and will tend to look away from their screens to answer the given question,” Dr. Olson said. It looks like it might be time we stop taking office disruptions for granted.