Not all is good and well when it comes to remote working in the UK. This according to a new survey by the Institute of Employment Studies that shows a huge uptick in musculoskeletal pain among people working from home.
As employees bask in the more flexible work schedule and working in their pajamas, back pain in particular has risen dramatically.
Reason for the raise In back pain
According to the survey, over half of those that took part reported experiencing back pain. 58% also said they suffered from neck pain when they started working from home.
There are a couple of reasons for the dramatic numbers.
The switch to remote work happened rapidly in March 2020 due to the spread of covid-19. However, not every company provided equipment and supplies to their employees to help them make the transition. Many employees spent their own money to upgrade their internet connections, and in some cases, set up a home office. If not, they used what supplies they had on hand to craft a home office.
These makeshift workspaces are putting more stress on employee’s necks and backs.
“At the office, you may have a comfortable chair, height-adjustable screens, wrist supports, perhaps a telephone headset. Then suddenly you’re glued to the sofa for hours on end peering down at a laptop.”
says Tim Allardyce, a physiotherapist and osteopath at Surrey Physio.
The problem occurs from the shape the spine takes when a worker is sitting on their couch while working on their laptops.
“Your spine naturally wants to be in an extended position with your shoulders back and your bottom slightly sticking out, but a chair with no lumbar support can allow your spine to move into a ‘c-shape’, which puts strain through the supporting muscles,” continues Allardyce.
It is common for people working on a couch or kitchen table to bend at angles they wouldn’t if they were sitting at an ergonomically designed desk and chair.
In addition to more workers working from their couches, people, in general, are staying home more because of the lockdowns. The increase in sedentary lifestyle also contributes to MSD.
A study by Opinium in May 2020 surveyed the internet habits of British residents and found a 776% increase in internet usage. While a significant portion of that is due to the high percentage of the British workforce working from home, this is also the result of the general population spending more time at home as well.
49% of those people are watching more tv and videos during the lockdowns. This would lead one to conclude that the people watching more video and tv are also spending more time on their couches or in their beds. Those areas are not ergonomically sound, which can also increase back problems.
Ways to prevent back injuries and strains while working from home
The most obvious solution is to invest in ergonomically sound office equipment for your home. Since the pandemic has continued for far longer than initially believed, companies are starting to make that investment for their employees. At the very least, they are helping their employees get chairs that have proper lumbar support.
If your company is not making this investment and you aren’t able to do so, here are the most important things you should be doing on your own to ensure your home office is ergonomic:
- Take steps to raise your laptop off your table so you don’t spend as much time hunched over. You can use books or even a cardboard in your house to elevate the device.
- Stop sitting on the couch or bed to work. Get a chair that supports your body properly.
- Take time to stand each hour. This will stretch out the muscles in your back that take the bulk of the stress when you are sitting and reaching for your computer.
- Do stretches throughout the day that will bring relief to your neck, shoulders, and back.
Nothing replaces frequent movements
Above all else, most experts believe the best way to avoid musculoskeletal disease when working is to take frequent breaks.
“The body is designed to move,” says physiotherapist Uzo Ehiogu at the Royal Orthopaedeic Hospital in Birmingham. “Pressure sensors around the body send signals to the brain to register discomfort and trigger the urge to move”. This is your cue that you’ve been sitting for too long. Don’t ignore this urge in your body. Make time to physically get up and move in your home at least once an hour.