Remember back to society’s naive days? No, not the ones before ‘the scary C word’ became Covid. The ones when we all thought we were isolating for just 2 or 3 weeks. As we brought our work/school lives home, we set up haphazard workspaces in our dining rooms, bedrooms or… well… closets because they’d only be needed through a brief interruption of ‘normal’. And then we used them for more than a year!

And now here we are, 12+ months later; experts at Zoom with achy backs, necks and wrists, having figured out how to Amazon Prime ANYTHING but not figured out work/life balance when there’s barely a doorway between the two.

With May being International Posture Month, and a slew of questions/concerns from sore patients on the topic, I figured it was high time to review 5 Posture Tips to keep you feeling and functioning well throughout your work-from-home workday. (and, of course, you can bring these habits back to the office when we get there too, good posture is a good habit anywhere!)

Why You Should Give Posture Your Attention

Before we explore the How’s, let’s make sure we understand  some of the Why’s of being concerned with work-from-home posture:

  • A 2020 research paper (Moretti et al.) showed that nearly 65% of people who work from home have neck pain or back pain
  • Poor posture doesn’t just look bad – it’s linked to muscle and joint pain throughout the body, affects ease of breathing, balance problems, low self-esteem, and depression
  • Proper posture lends itself to – being more resilient to stress, proper breathing, better mood, better balance, as well as FEELING AND FUNCTIONING BETTER throughout your day.
  • People are reporting that working from home is less productive, more stressful and more uncomfortable – especially as we do it longer than initially expected.

5 Wellness-Minded Tips for Your Workday

1. Make Your Device Work for You

Many of us are working with what we have, but that doesn’t mean we can’t adapt those things to function better. Position your computer monitor so that your eyes are even with the top.  That might mean investing in an external keyboard if you’re living the laptop lifestyle, or even using a good old pile of books to achieve the perfect height.

And don’t forget about all the time we spent on  smartphones. Looking down at technology for work and recreation is causing an epidemic of Tech Neck – remember to bring that device up to meet a neutral head posture rather than your eyes down to the device.

2. Stay Active Throughout The Day

I, and many patients I talk to, learned as a youngster that fidgeting was bad and attentive workers sat still. Not so for wellness minded workers! Action helps keep metabolism from slowing to a crawl and the brain alert. And it keeps muscles and joints happy!

I’m hearing from my work-from-home community that they’re moving dramatically less during the day without coworkers to visit, out-of-office lunch breaks and commutes, so we need to be especially attentive to the movement built into our workday. Set timers throughout the day for non-negotiable stretch and water breaks. Find sit and stand alternatives for workspaces and consider which tasks can be accomplished while on a walk or doing a simple chore (studies show creativity improves with movement).

3. Take Posture Breaks

On the subject of movement… but even more intentional… we should all commit to Posture Breaks in our work-from-home workday (and take this habit back to the office when we get there). Once per working hour, invest 30 seconds into postural health by completing this routine: bring both arms out to the sides at or below shoulder level, press your chest forward and let your head drop back. Hold for 30 seconds. This simple stretch helps reverse and unwind the typical deskwork posture of head-neck-shoulders curling upward and inward and gives the lungs a chance to fully inflate. For bonus points – breath deeply and reduce stress by focusing on positive thoughts or an affirmation.

4. Perform Neck Retractions

I warned above of the danger of forward head posture, but let’s dive a little deeper: We know the adult head weighs about 10 lbs. and is supported on delicate joints, muscles and tendons of the neck. In ideal posture that system works well, but introduce modern devices that have us looking down excessively and trouble can quickly set in. When we look down at a 30 degree angle the effective weight of the head quadruples and at 60 degrees (be honest, you get to 60 degrees easily!) it’s effectively 60 lbs. Yikes!!

Neck retractions can help relieve and rebalance the muscle strain in your neck and improve neck posture. And they’re simple – keeping your eyes forward and parallel to the ground place 1 finger on your chin as a guide, gently move your head back so your ears are over your shoulders, hold for 10 seconds and repeat 5 times.

5. Give Posture a Second Thought

Something happens universally and naturally when I start talking about posture. Those I’m talking to automatically fix theirs. We know what good posture is (not military/ramrod straight – but rather ears over shoulders, shoulders over elbows, elbows over hips, hips over knees, knees over ankles) but we don’t pay attention to it often enough.

This last tip is to remember – or rather set reminders to remember – posture throughout our day and as we change activities. A good reminder might be a diagram in your workspace that you notice each time you sit down, a chime that rings every few hours throughout the day or even a fancy app on your smart device.

Committing to postural habit changes are one of those rare things that will reap benefits as soon as you implement them. If you’d like to up your game even more, reach out about setting up a virtual or in-person workspace/workplace assessment or have your posture looked at during your next visit.

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