By Cammi McLain, LMT
In January of 2020 my husband decided to buy the “cheapest, simplest” office chair he could find for his desk at home. “We don’t have a lot of space, and I only work from home maybe two days a month”, he explained to me when his chair arrived with minimal padding and barely any lumbar support. Less than a month later, his company locked the office down and gave notice that all employees were to work from home for the foreseeable future as a pandemic began to spread across the globe.
We couldn’t fathom that nearly 8 months later, he’d still be working from home at his tiny desk, looking down at an old monitor and sitting in a less than supportive chair.
As a massage therapist, who frequently sees desk-related injuries, I could tell this was a recipe for disaster. As fate would have it, my husband is now seeing a chiropractor three times a week and me for massage once a week for the next three months, to aid in healing his severe neck and back pain. He’s not alone…
At Harmony Massage, we see many clients who have been forced to make the transition from their ergonomically sound office to their dining room table/couch/makeshift desk at home. Consequently, we have also seen an uptick in office-related injuries. While massage can be a key factor in decreased pain and increased muscle function from these injuries, there are also some easy steps you can take to ensure your home set up minimizes your risk.
1) Give yourself some room!
Be sure your legs have plenty of space to stretch out as needed, and you can plant both feet firmly on the floor with ease.
2) Look AT your monitor, not up or down at it.
You can purchase an adjustable monitor stand, or simply use books/magazines/yoga blocks/etc. to ensure your monitor is at eye level. This keeps your neck from having to strain to look at the screen, and also helps to discourage slouching (which is the main cause for upper back pain while working at a desk).
3) Get up, get moving!
With out needing to commute to work, walk from your car into your building, to and from your desk, in and out of meetings, back and forth from the break room, etc., you may find yourself sitting at your desk for longer periods now than back in our pre-pandemic days. Try keeping your snacks/drinks in a location across the room and not at your desk. Set an alarm every hour (or more) to step away from your monitor, look outside, and get some stretches in.
4) Ask your HR department about reimbursement for office supplies/furniture.
If you’re like my husband and have a chair that doesn’t fit the bill for comfort, or think an adjustable monitor stand sounds better than your sons building blocks, contact your HR department and see if they have any programs in place to reimburse for essential supplies. Some employers are even allowing their team to take items from their work desk home!
5) Light it up!
Our ocular nerve starts at one eye, wraps all the way around the back of the head to the base of the skull, and back to the other eye. Knowing this, eye strain can trigger headaches. You’ll also notice if you try to strain your eyes to see something, your head naturally pulls slightly forward in response. This leads to additional pressure being put on the sides & front of the neck muscles, causing the back of the neck muscles to over-lengthen, resulting in tension and sometimes pain. Keep the space around your home desk well-lit so your eyes aren’t having to constantly adjust and strain from your monitor screen. Something as simple as turning on a lamp behind your monitor can help!
6) Make an appointment with your Massage Therapist!
Even at the most ergonomically sound desk, computer work can cause tension, stress and fatigue to your muscles. Getting a massage also gives you a safe excuse to get out of the house! Rest assured, most massage clinics are upholding the recommended safety and cleanliness procedures outlined by the Washington State Department of Health. We at Harmony Massage hold ourselves to the highest standards to ensure the safety and health of our staff and our clients.
I’m happy to report after retrieving his monitor stand from work, investing in a new (very comfy) office chair, and getting help from his deep tissue specialist of a wife, my husband is getting range of motion back and is in 50% less pain than he was a week ago. If you’re concerned or have questions about your home set up, contact your HR department for assistance or see if they have an ergonomic specialist on your team. Your massage therapist will also be glad to help iron out some knots and give you supportive stretches to ensure you get through this pandemic in one piece! Working from home can be a pain, but you don’t have to be in pain to do so.