Suffering from workplace injury… at home

Working from home has brought some obvious benefits to our lives such as better work-life balance, less commuting and a likely increase in productivity. However, the incidence of some musculoskeletal issues such as repetitive strain injuries, neck and back pain and tension headaches, have soared.

What are the symptoms of poor ergonomics?

Prolonged poor ergonomics at your workplace can lead to a multitude of health issues and not just a bad back. These include musculoskeletal pain, neurological conditions (e.g. headaches, migraines, eye strain, nerve injury from neck to hand), to increased risk of health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and a deterioration of mental health. It is the cumulative effect of poor posture over many hours, days, and months that deteriorates our health, usually without our awareness.

What has changed now we mainly WFH?

WFH creates different patterns of biomechanical stresses on the body. WFH patterns typically result in;

  • Longer working days despite no commuting
  • No physical activity from commute
  • Less breaks (e.g. one virtual meeting to the next)
  • Less social interaction (no corridor/water cooler conversations)
  • Less opportunity for time away from your desk
  • More screen time

To sit or to stand….or walk?

A proper DSE (display, screen equipment) set up is vital. Studies have shown that factors such as screen vs eye level, hand position and chair use, have profound effects on health.

Patients often ask me what is the ideal set up? In reality this answer depends on the nature of the work you are doing, your individual biomechanical requirements and symptoms.

Standing desks have enormous benefits as they ensure activation of major muscle groups (e.g. gluteal muscle) throughout the day which drives our and metabolism and burns calories. However, it is whole body movement which brings the most benefit for our body and metabolism.

The best workplace setups allow us to keep mobile and moving throughout the day, rather than hold a static position for prolonged periods of time, sitting or standing.

Read on for some top tips on how to achieve a dynamic workplace wherever or whatever your job requires.

Top Tips

  • Walking meetings. Being able to take calls whilst walking should be sought and taken at every opportunity, especially when face to face screen time is not essential (and signal allows!)
  • Adjustment of equipment. Switching between devices and setups (e.g. tablets, desktops, keyboards) reduces the risk of repetitive strain injury type conditions and eye strain.
  • Dictation software. Using voice messages and dictation tools to correspond can drastically reduce RSI injuries by reducing the amount of typing. This is important for conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome and nerve entrapment.
  • Diary management. Cramming back to back video calls may seem like a productive way of working, but ensuring you have regular break slots booked out will allow you to move your body more and rest your mind, optimising work performance.
  • Innovation. Be innovative with your work setup. Desk cycles are a fantastic way of burning calories when performing more mundane work tasks such as emails.
  • Calling it a day. Know when you working day ends! This will help give you body a rest away from screens enabling physical and mental rest.

Employers duties

It is a legal requirement for places of work to provide healthy workspaces for their employees. Please take the time to have a look at the government guidance at https://www.hse.gov.uk/msd/dse/ .

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