What’s making work from home ‘painful’ for us? Experts explain

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Living in pandemic times is affecting our overall well-being in ways we never imagined. From the stress of managing home, office and children together with little change in setting to developing bad postures, our joints and muscles are bearing the brunt of it all. No wonder, many people are complaining of back, neck pain and headaches these days.

A study by PMC Labs on ‘Characterization of Home Working Population during COVID-19 Emergency’ finds out that 41.2% of people working from home reported lower back pain while 23.5% complained of neck pain due to extended working hours at home. In a paper published by ‘Headache’, the Journal of Head and Face Pain, factors such as poor ergonomics, stress, increased screen time, disruption of sleep and routine, poor time management, and increased isolation caused by the pandemic may be resulting in frequent headaches among working people.

Poor posture and a sedentary lifestyle are among the top culprits behind rise in musculoskeletal disorders of the lower back and neck in pandemic times.

ALSO READ: Is work from home hurting your back? Tips to correct your posture

Here are top reasons why work from home has become so ‘painful’ for people:

Lack of exercise

“Travel restrictions and temporary closure of playgrounds, swimming pools, gyms or jogging tracks etc. created major hurdles for individuals who exercise regularly. It reduced the daily physical activity and eating habits of the individuals substantially,” says Prof. (Dr.) Ali Irani, Head of Physiotherapy and Sports Medicine, Nanavati Max Super Speciality Hospital.

“The number of individuals facing back and neck pain has increased recently. Lack of exercise, poor posture, physical trauma and emotional stress can be contributing factors,” says Dr Dipti Patel, Rheumatologist, Wockhardt Hospital, Mumbai Central.

“It is important to incorporate physical activity in daily routine along with healthy diet to improve musculoskeletal health,” adds Dr Patel.

Change in eating habits

“Many of our patient complained that their breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner timings changed with erratic WFH hours,” says Dr. Irani, adding, “individuals working from home need to follow their earlier routine for meals and stick to them. You can speak with your nutritionists to plan a diet according to your daily schedule,” he says.

Change in sleeping habits

“Major disturbance in sleeping habits was caused by the changes in mealtime and exercises. At the same time, majority of WFH population often skipped baths, washing the faces, dressing up or even breakfasts which made them feel sluggish and sleepy while working. Moreover, the working hours in WFH population extended beyond their usual working hours and overlapped with the sleeping schedule which disturbed the routine of these individuals,” adds Dr. Irani.

“Lack of sleep can worsen symptoms of pain. The ideal bed is one that’s ‘comfortable for you’. As for the best sleep posture, side or back is easier on your back than sleeping on your belly. Also, tucking a pillow between legs to help align hips lessens back pain,” advises Dr Patel.

She says that maintaining a sleep routine is important and gadgets should be avoided at all costs before sleep. Some light reading material or light music can help the mind relax before sleep. She advises to dim the lights and create an atmosphere conducive to sleep.

Lack of work-life balance

“It is also essential to strike balance between work, diet and exercise. Introducing a particular time for light-family exercises such as skipping, climbing steps, taking a stroll on your terrace or building compound and even dancing can help you stay healthy,” Dr Irani says.

Certain exercises and routine changes are recommended for people working from home.

Do exercises for pain relief during work from home

Back pain can be linked to stress, tension, and other non-physical problems. Yoga, meditation, and other mindfulness practices may help lift your mood, stretch your muscles, and make you relax so you can better manage your back pain. “It is important to understand that lack of movement can make joint pains worse. Due to lack of time or worry regarding worsening pain people avoid exercise. However, movement and doing exercises both aerobic and muscle strengthening can improve flexibility and prevent stiffness,” says Dr Patel.

Stay physically active

“We also observed that majority individuals with physiological problems kept essential food items or water near the workstation or it was handed over to them by the family. It’s better to take small breaks and walk around to fetch water and food yourself. Individuals can also perform small household activities such as folding clothes or dusting the house and furniture while working as exercise. At the same time access to fresh air and greenery while taking a walk may also help,” says Dr Irani.

Improving bad posture

A bad posture is anything that causes pain in your joints or muscles. Thus, it’s ideal to stretch and extend your back, neck, hands and legs while working. Most offices have a chair and table since the set-up allows least stress on your joints and muscles, allowing you to work without pain. Individuals working from home should ensure a foot-rest, maintain screen at the eye-level so there is minimal pressure on the neck muscles, support for elbows and wrists while working on laptop or computers, and back support for spine comfort for ideal posture.

Tips to improve posture by Dr. Patel

* Don’t sit up in your bed hunched over your laptop.

* If you must sit for a long time, use cushioned chairs. Hard seats won’t support your back and may prevent you from sitting up straight.

* Use a comfortable desk and chair if you need them while working.

*Keep your feet shoulder -width apart.

*Tuck your stomach in when you’re standing.

*If you’re standing for too long, regularly shift your weight from one foot to the other and from your toes to heels.

*Roll your shoulders back.

*Let your arms hang naturally on the sides of your body.

How to protect eyes

*As far as possible reduce screen time.

*Maintain appropriate distance between screen and head.

*Wear glasses after an eye check up if required to avoid unnecessary strain.

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