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Coronavirus: How to avoid health problems when working from home

Lydia Smith
Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
Shoulder, neck and back pain are common problems when sitting in one position for long hours. (Getty)

More people than ever before are working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic and many are working with a less-than-ideal office set-up.

In lieu of a home office, lots of us are hunched over the kitchen table or slouched on the sofa or bed. Over time, though, this can wreak havoc on your back and neck.

We’re all aware of the much-touted perks of remote working. You can work in the comfort of your lounge, spend the day in your pyjamas and swap office politics for peace and quiet. But working from home can also take its toll on your physical health, leading to backache, headaches, sore muscles and more.

So what can you do to stay healthy while quarantined in your home?

Look after your back and neck

Many businesses have ergonomic chairs, keyboards and computer monitors, as well as mouse mats with wrist supports and other gadgets. Without these, it’s easy to develop aches and pains which can get worse over time because slouching or being hunched over a computer puts physical stress on your body.

You can reduce your risk of back pain by adjusting your chair so your lower back is properly supported. If you can’t get hold of a proper office chair, a lower back support can help angle your pelvis forward and improve your posture. Your knees should be slightly lower than your hips while sitting.

Read more: Five apps to help you work from home during the coronavirus crisis

Your wrists and forearms should be straight and level with the floor if possible, to prevent repetitive strain injuries. Having your computer screen straight in front of you at eye level can help reduce neck pain too.

If you spend a lot of time on the phone, it can help to swap your handset for a headset as balancing the phone between your ear and shoulder can strain the muscles in your neck.

Try gentle stretches

For those with no option but to work without a decent chair or desk, stretching regularly can help ease aches and pains.

A neck rotation involves sitting upright with your shoulders down and relaxed. Look straight ahead and slowly turn your head towards your left shoulder and hold it for five seconds. Do the same on the right and do three rotations on each side.

For a deeper neck stretch, sit upright, look straight ahead and hold your left shoulder down with your right hand. Slowly tilt your head to the right while holding your shoulder down, before repeating on the other side. Hold each stretch for five second and repeat three times on each side.

The NHS has a number of stretches to help ease lower back pain, a common complaint among UK adults. If you tend to sit a lot for work, your hip flexors – the muscles that allow flexion at the hip joint – can become tight and sore.

To stretch these muscles, step your left leg forward while keeping both feet pointing straight ahead. While keeping your back leg straight – and avoiding sticking your bottom out and arching your back – slowly bend your front leg and push your right buttock forward until you feel a stretch across the front of your right hip joint. Repeat with the other leg. Be careful not to push too hard and if it hurts, stop.

Look after your eyes

If your eyes are aching, adjusting your screen’s brightness or contract can help. Make sure you look away from your laptop screen regularly and take in natural light to help reduce strain. Work in a well-lit area but without light reflecting off the computer screen.

Bifocal glasses can also be problematic because it’s important to be able to see the screen easily without having to raise or lower your head.

Get moving

Sitting for long periods of time can contribute to aches and pains when you are working from home, so it’s important to take regular breaks and exercise when you can. Frequent short breaks are better for your back than fewer long ones as it gives the muscles a chance to relax while others take the strain, according to the NHS.

Dr William Bird, an adviser to the World Health Organisation and the government on physical activity, says it’s important to avoid being too sedentary during the coronavirus outbreak because it can risk your health further.

“It is therefore vital that those who remain housebound continue to be active and be allowed to walk 2 x 10 minutes a day outdoors whilst remaining isolated from others.

“Alternatively, try doing some activities in the home. Perhaps you could climb the stairs if you have some, or you could try chair yoga.”

Read more: Five ways to beat burnout before it kicks in

Doing a short yoga session online can also help loosen up tight or stiff muscles if you have been sitting for too long. If you can get outside, a walk in the fresh air can ease headaches.

If you can’t leave your home, running up and down the stairs can help stretch your legs and get your muscles moving. There are also plenty of online gym classes – many of which are currently free because of the coronavirus outbreak – which you can do in your lounge or bedroom.

Careers Clinic