Muscle pain related to remote work has become a new reality for many as a result of COVID-19, even though working from home has been a growing trend over the past 10 years.
In and of itself, working from home has many positive aspects:
- Less commuting time
- Lower stress levels
- Fewer distractions
- Flexible hours and work-life balance
In modern North America, where people are always trying to do more, this looks like the ideal option, but is it really?
Since the early 2000s, studies have shown that workers’ physical and mental health is increasingly affected by remote working. The increased number of hours worked weekly, the disconnection from the team, and the lack of activity are often cited among the causes.
Working from home can affect the physical and mental health of workers in a variety of ways. Isolation from coworkers, absence of travel, increased daily hours and work posture are just a few examples.
Here are some tips on how to organize your workstation. This will prevent remote working from becoming the reason for your sick leave.
Key elements to avoid the onset of muscular pain
Your work tools (computer, keyboard and mouse)
Most workers use their laptops when working remotely.. Laptops have several advantages, but they are often the cause of a lot of muscular pain. Indeed, one must choose between an optimal position for the eyes and an uncomfortable position for the arms or the opposite. Poor ergonomics can quickly lead to neck and shoulder pain.
To optimize your work posture, we recommend placing the laptop screen at the level of your eyes and using external keyboard and mouse at the level of your forearms. You can even use an external screen to better adjust its height.
There are several types of keyboards and mice on the market that offer different options to address the issues experienced by users of standard tools. So, it is important to identify where your muscular pain or discomfort lies in order to choose the best option. For example, if the pain is in the wrists, you could consider a contoured keyboard, a separate keyboard or a vertical mouse If, on the other hand, you have discomfort in your shoulders, then a short keyboard or a keyboard with a numeric keypad on the left might be appropriate. A central roller mouse can also be an interesting option to distribute the use of the mouse to both upper limbs. When in doubt, seek professional advice.
There is no doubt that all aspects of the workstation have an impact on the use of the mouse and keyboard. It is crucial to properly adjust the entire workstation in order to see a real change in muscular pain.
Your workstation (desk and chair)
The workstation is just as important as the tools used. When working from home, many people are sitting on the couch, at the kitchen table or at the counter. It is not uncommon for workers to develop back pain or other aches within a few weeks when they are poorly positioned.
An ideal workstation includes arm support and a comfortable chair with at least one height adjustment and adequate lower back support. If the lumbar support seems insufficient, you can create one using a rolled towel. This is a simple way to quickly relieve your back pain! Some chairs do not have armrests, in which case it is important to have some support on the work surface.
As for your desk, it should be high enough to hold your keyboard and mouse at the level of your elbows. If the desk is too high for you, you can use an adjustable height tray fixed under your desk to place your keyboard and mouse. Many people position their screen on a stand to align their eyes with the top third of the screen. You should feel that your head is straight. These adjustments can have a big impact on muscular pain such as neck pain or even back pain.
The working environment
The environment in which a worker performs his or her tasks must be calm and conducive to concentration. If you have children or your spouse at home, it is recommended to have a closed room to set up your office. This will greatly contribute to productivity and prevent you from having to work overtime to complete your projects. It is also very important to think about taking breaks. You should keep in mind that even at work everyone is entitled to a bathroom break or to talk with a colleague about their weekend without having to work overtime.
Many references and professionals have great resources to reduce the negative effects of remote working.
With the proper advice and ergonomic adjustments, you can continue to work from home for years to come. Prevention is key. Remember that if you are not comfortable at your workstation, you will develop muscular pain.
- Your employer: Don’t hesitate to ask your employer for additional tools to help you get comfortable at home. Wireless keyboards and mice are practical and affordable.
- The CNESST: You can find many tips on adjusting your workstation on the CNESST website.
- Ergonomists or occupational therapists: To adjust your workstation more precisely, you can turn to an ergonomist or an occupational therapist. One meeting may be enough and the advice provided will be personalized and may not be expensive. Some insurance companies also cover this service, so ask about it!
What to do about muscular pain or injury
If pain occurs despite your best efforts to adjust your workstation, do not hesitate to consult a physiotherapist or an occupational therapist specialized in hand therapy.
Symptoms to look for include neck pain, back pain, or shoulder, wrist or hand pain. Numbness in the arms or headaches can also be a sign of poor posture.
The physiotherapist or occupational therapist will help you identify the cause of your pain. He or she can then help you relieve it by giving you advice and tools tailored to your condition.
Advice from our health professionals
It is important to take breaks at least once in the morning and once in the afternoon to do stretching exercises. Lack of physical activity is a major contributor to muscle pain. Here is a stretching routine you can do on your breaks to help relieve back pain quickly.
Exercising and being active outside of the workday is also very important. This will help you maintain good physical and psychological health and release your muscular tension. A kinesiologist can guide you in a reactivation program with personalized exercises.
Last but not least, a group or individual follow-up with an occupational therapist specialized in mental health can help you maintain a good life balance and address any psychological problems you may have.
Please do not hesitate to contact our CMI Clinics for more information on our services.
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