Working From Home… Bad Back Epidemic?

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At its peak, 62% of Americans were working from home during COVID, creating a shift in the modern workplace. Kitchen tables have turned into work desks and couches and recliners are now our office chairs. While we may feel cozy, experts say our new home workspace could be creating chronic back problems in the months and years to come.

You may think working from home has taken the weight off your shoulders, but think again, especially if you’ve been feeling shoulder, neck and back pain.

“If you’re just sitting on a couch, with the laptop sitting on your thighs, your arms may be comfortable, but your head, neck, shoulders are all going to have this downwardly rotated posture; that's absolutely the worst thing you can do,” explained Grant Garrigues, MD, a shoulder surgeon at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush.

Doctors say in that position, the rotator cuff is being pinched. Over time, it can result in serious injuries.

“Suddenly doing an overhead activity where the shoulder blade needs to roll back fully, but it can’t anymore because it's lost that flexibility in the front and the strength in the back, leads to big problems,” elaborated Dr. Garrigues.

Doctors say if you find yourself working from home for a period of time, proper positioning of your laptop is key.

“By definition, your hands are down low on the keyboard, then the screen is going to be down low too, that’s going to lead to neck flexion,” illustrated Dr. Garrigues.

Place your monitor at arm’s length, so the top of your screen is at or slightly below eye level. And if it can’t adjust, prop it up on a riser or books. Keep your desk at a height where your elbows and wrists are level with the tabletop. And use a firm, upright chair that provides support. If needed, rest your feet on a stool that allows a 90-degree angle for your knees and hips. With steps to prevent shoulder, neck, and back problems.

If it works in your work from home budget, doctors say a standing desk is a great option. But don’t start with eight hours on the first day. Just keep it 30 minutes, and then gradually increase your standing over time. Also, be sure to take short breaks. One routine is called the 20/20/20 rule. For every 20 minutes spent looking at a computer screen, you should spend 20 seconds looking at something else 20 feet away. This gives your eyes a break and helps reduce neck strain.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Executive Producer; Addlyn Teague, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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