Updated: Aug 19
COVID-19 has caused the result of many changes to our society and daily living. One of the biggest changes has been spending more hours working from home, sitting at a make-shift work station. This, combined with additional hours checking our phones or reading on our tablets, has caused an increased incidence of neck and back pain.
A negative side effect of having to sit for longer periods of the day is that your body may begin to ache. Poor sitting posture, prolonged screen time, and lack of movement are some of the main contributors to spine-related pain.
This part is key to success. Finding an ideal desk set-up will help lead to better posture and less muscle fatigue throughout the day. Here are some general guidelines to follow:
Align the top of your monitor so that it is level with your eyes
Adjust your chair so that your hips are at 90 degrees, and knees at 90 degrees. Ideally, your hips should be slightly higher than your knees.
If your feet can’t touch the floor, use a small box or stool to support your feet
Position your arm rests at a height that will allow your shoulders to be relaxed and your elbows to be bent at 90 degrees
Avoid shrugging the shoulders or hunching forward
Use a keyboard tray to allow the elbows to remain at 90 degrees, rather than reaching up on to your desk with your arms, causing your shoulders to hike up
Your forearms should be supported by your desk or keyboard tray so that your forearms are horizontal and your wrists are in slight extension (small bend in the wrist)
If you have a laptop, prop it on a laptop stand or stack of books to raise the monitor to eye level. Then, use a wireless keyboard and mouse to allow your arms to rest on your desk.
If you have multiple monitors on your desk, make sure that you use a chair that swivels so that you can rotate your whole body to face the screen, rather than turning your head repeatedly through the day. Sustained, prolonged twisting or looking one direction can cause neck and back pain.
Phones and Tablets
While using your phone or tablet, raise the device to eye level. If you are seated, prop your arms on a pillow, armrest or desk to bring the device up, rather than craning your neck to look down at the screen.
No surprise here; getting up from your desk and moving throughout the day can help relieve strain on your spine by improving blood flow, engaging postural muscles, lengthening hip flexors and mobilizing your joints. Set a reminder on your watch or phone to encourage you to get up and move every hour. If you are able, take your calls while on a walk outside. You'll benefit from the exercise, in addition to the natural light and fresh air.
Here are a few exercises to try during your screen-free breaks:
Thoracic Extension Over Chair
Sit up tall in a straight back chair (ideally the top of the chair is at the level of your shoulder blades) with your feet on the floor
Use your hands to support your head and neck
Arch back over the chair so that your mid back bends slightly over the top of the chair
Repeat 10 times
Sit up tall and pretend that your head is sitting on a flat shelf
Keep your chin neutral, then slide your head back on the shelf making a double chin
Repeat 10 times
Using a band anchored into a doorway, hold end of band in each hand
Pull the band towards the body (allowing the elbows to bend) as you squeeze your shoulder blades together using the muscles in your mid back
Repeat 10-20 times
You can also do this without the band, by sitting or standing with tall posture, and practicing squeezing your shoulder blades together. This will help you take a break from the rounded shoulders computer posture.
Consult with your physical therapist for more exercise and posture advice.