Norfolk expert’s tips for avoiding laptop neck and backache while working at home
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Chiropractor Andy Goddard from Anglia Chiropractic says micro-breaks are the key to avoiding pain and long term conditions.
While some people who have been working from home during the pandemic have been able to turn their spare rooms into offices, or even had outdoor offices built in their gardens, others in smaller dwellings and houseshares may have had to improvise and turn their kitchen table into a makeshift workstation.
And many of us have found the boundaries between work and home life becoming blurred and are putting in longer hours at their virtual office.
For some, it’s leading to an increase in problems such as neck ache – sometimes dubbed ‘laptop neck’ – and back ache.
Andy Goddard, clinic director of Anglia Chiropractic in Norwich, says that among his clients he has seen both the positive and negative sides of working from home.
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Some have been able to move around more, which has improved their posture and decreased their pain levels, while others, who are perhaps working on furniture which hasn’t been specifically designed for that purpose, have reported the opposite.
Problems can include postural fatigue of muscles, lower and upper back and neck pains, headaches and migraines, disc problems and sciatica, shoulder impingement and RSI (repetitive strain injuries).
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“Since lockdown, it’s been interesting as we have seen people both people who are physically better – which is generally as a result of them being able to move around more, and fit some activity into their schedule meaning a decrease in their postural fatigue and general stiffness and pain levels,” says Andy. “On the other hand, many people have been sat with incorrect postures and ergonomics, which has increased their pain and stiffness.”
He continues: “Pain signals are the body’s warning sign, more like a buffer, telling us something may be wrong. There are two common methods of injury: a high load over a short and often fast period of time or lower or repetitive loads over a longer sustained periods of time.
“Muscles can hold a contraction (support) for a limited period of time before a gradual fatigue occurs. When this happens, an increased biomechanical loading of the joints, muscles and other soft tissue occurs, which can cause signals of pain. Also, if an underlying joint condition is present, an increase in flare ups of pain and stiffness can often occur.”
As well as awareness of your posture, it’s important that you have a good ergonomic set-up, he continues, ie that the equipment and furniture that you are using is specially designed to try and ensure that you are comfortable and supported while carrying out your day to day work tasks.
“The internet has a great deal of information on ergonomic work environment set-ups, but this does have some limitations,” says Andy. “As we are all different heights, weights and have different length of legs, etc, chair requirements and desk heights can actually vary between individuals. Many people are using a sit-stand desk, including myself, to help reduce cumulative stress and loading on our bodies.”
One of the most important things, says Andy, is to make sure that you move regularly.
“We normally recommend micro-breaks, changing positions, every 30 -40 minutes throughout the day where repetitive positions are sustained,” he says.
“Keeping gently active throughout the day is very important, as it helps to maintain strength, stability and flexibility – all of which are critical to our joint and soft tissue health and wellbeing.”
See the Anglia Chiropractic website at angliachiropractic.co.uk
For some simple exercises to help with your posture visit chiropractic-uk.co.uk/straighten-up-uk/
Avoiding laptop neck
Laptops have allowed many people who would usually be based in an office to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic. But the features which make a laptop portable can also make it tricky to adopt the right posture when using them, which in turn can cause back, neck and shoulder problems.
Here are some tips from the NHS for making your laptop safer and more comfortable to use:
Use a separate keyboard and mouse so that the laptop can be put on a stand and the screen opened at eye level.
Use your laptop on a stable base where there is support for your arms, and not on your lap.
Take regular breaks. If you’re moving, there’s a lot less stress on your muscles and joints.
Sit properly with lower back support, and ensure other desk equipment is within reach.
Get into good habits before the aching starts. Neck, shoulder and back problems gradually build up over time.