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How to reduce aches and pains when working from home

Physiotherapist at Bupa UK
25 June 2020

Over the past few months, millions of workers have transformed parts of their homes into offices to help slow the spread of coronavirus. But using sofas as office chairs and kitchen tables as desks could leave you with aches and pains in your muscles and joints. Recent research from Bupa UK estimates that 11 million Brits now have pain in their back, neck, knees, hips or wrists because of working from home without proper equipment.

Here I’ll explain some of the most common mistakes you might make when working from home and what to do to help ease the strain. But if you don’t have any home office equipment, I’ll also share some handy hacks using items from around the house to help you get a little more comfortable.

person with a bowl of cereal and laptop on a bed

Are you hunched over your screen?

1 in 4 home workers sit hunched over a laptop or computer. But this can cause pain and stiffness in your back, shoulders and neck.

Tip: Try to ensure your monitor is an arm’s length away from you and the top of your monitor is at eye level. Try stacking your laptop on some thick books to help raise it and stop you from leaning over.

hump sitting position infographic

Are you slouched on the sofa?

Many people slouch on a sofa or bed to work. But this can cause back pain in both your lower and upper back due to the lack of support. What’s more, your neck is likely to be at an odd angle too.

Tip: Try to use a chair that has more support for your lower back, allowing you to keep your back and head upright as you work.

sloucher sitting position infographic

Do you twist to see your screen?

Laptops may be portable but balancing them at odd angles can lead to back, neck and shoulder pain.

Tip: It’s best to keep your computer in a position that’s directly in front of you, with the screen at eye level and your wrists supported.

twister sitting position infographic

Are you sitting still for too long?

1 in 3 of us sit still for long periods of time while working from home. But this can cause stiffness and muscle pain.

Tip: Whether you have all the ergonomic equipment you need, or you’re doing your best to make it work with minimal kit, it’s important for everyone to take regular breaks. This gives some of your muscles a chance to rest while others do the work. Try to take at least 5-10 minutes break every hour, to give your eyes a rest, stretch your neck, back and shoulders, and get up and move around.

statue sitting position inforgraphic

Are you balancing your phone with your shoulder?

With colleagues spread out around the country, you might find you’re spending more time on the phone. But using a mobile or landline phone without a headset is likely to strain the muscles in your neck.

Tip: Try to use a hands-free phone line such as a headset or earphones. Avoid typing or writing with a phone between your ear and shoulder, as this can lead to neck problems.

inforgraphic of a shoulder shrug sitting position while working

Are you crossing your legs underneath you?

When working from an armchair or sofa, you might be tempted to curl your legs up under you. But if your legs aren’t able to balance on the floor this can cause hip and back pain.

Tip: Try to sit in a chair where your feet can reach the floor. If it’s too high, use a couple of books to rest your feet on.

infographic of a dangler sitting position while working

Top tips for remote working

Set up your workspace correctly

If you’re fortunate to have some home office equipment, make sure it’s set up correctly.

  • Keep your chair close to your desk.
  • Adjust the height of your chair to ensure both your feet are on the floor. If your feet don’t reach the floor, use a footrest.
  • Adjust the angle of the back rest on your chair and the depth of the seat so that your back is fully supported.
  • Keep your thighs parallel with the floor and your knees a little lower than your hips and avoid crossing your legs.
  • Place your screen an arms-length away with the top of your monitor at eye level.
  • Try to use a laptop riser, external keyboard and mouse if you can.
  • Ensure your forearms are parallel with your work surface and your elbows are around 90 degrees.
  • If you use the phone a lot for work, use a handsfree headset where possible.
  • Keep any objects you use a lot nearby so you’re not overreaching.
  • Relax your shoulders.

If you don’t have ergonomic equipment…

Not everyone will have a dedicated workspace or access to the right office equipment when working from home. Try these tips and tricks using objects from your home to help. Although they’re not ideal, they may help reduce some of the strain temporarily until you can return to your usual working environment.

  • Try to avoid working from your sofa, bed or beanbags and balancing your laptop on your lap if possible.
  • If you don’t have a riser, use books or a box to raise your computer so the top of your screen is at eye level and an arms-length away.
  • If you don’t have an external keyboard or mouse, pull your laptop towards you so you can reach the keys and mousepad comfortably, instead of raising it up.
  • If your work surface is too high and your chair doesn’t adjust, sit on some cushions to raise yourself up so your arms are parallel with the surface.
  • If your feet don’t touch the ground, rest them on a few books.
  • If your chair doesn’t support your lower back, place a cushion or a rolled-up towel between the small of your back and your chair.
  • If you have to use the sofa, sit all the way back with both feet on the floor and place a cushion or a rolled-up towel behind your back if you need to. Raise your laptop by placing a cushion or book on your lap.
  • Use something like an ironing board or tall chest of drawers as a standing desk every now and then. Make sure it is a comfortable height for you so you’re not hunching over your computer. One way to try this could be to work for 20 minutes sitting, followed by eight minutes standing and then to have two minutes moving.

If you’re experiencing pain in your muscles or joints, ask your employer, GP or physiotherapist for help.

Emma Mitchell
Physiotherapist at Bupa UK

    • Hurting from home. Opinium Research. Commissioned by Bupa UK. Research conducted among 2,003 UK adults by Opinium Research between 24-27 April 2020, published 14 May 2020
    • Protect home workers. Health and Safety Executive. www.hse.gov.uk, accessed 19 June 2020
    • Home working and staying healthy. Chartered Institute of Ergonomics & Human Factors. www.covid19.ergonomics.org.uk, accessed 19 June 2020
    • 7 tips to tackle working from home. Every Mind Matters. www.nhs.uk/oneyou/everymindmatters, accessed 19 June 2020

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