What Happens to Your Body When You Work From Home
Feeling the aches and pains of remote work? You’re not alone.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 6:23 AM
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As working from home continues (42 percent of the U.S. labor force is doing it) and desks remain hard to come by, people are taking Zoom meetings from the couch, the floor, and even (admit it) their bed. While the cozy factor of these spots is certainly high (In an Amerisleep survey, 38 percent of remote employees said they take midday naps), they can be detrimental to your physical health.
While juggling small-space living and intruding family members, we’re often prioritizing getting through the day over our bodies. But forgoing ergonomics might have long-term effects: According to a Time report, if you’re already feeling aches and pains, you may be a candidate for potentially debilitating musculoskeletal injuries (such as back issues, sore neck and shoulders, and carpal tunnel syndrome) down the road. But all hope is not lost. There are adjustments you can make to protect your body from the risks of sofa slumping to conduct a presentation—read on.
The problem: According to a survey by the American Chiropractic Association, 92 percent of chiropractors said that patients have reported more neck pain since stay-at-home orders began. Your posture and line of vision are most likely to blame: The Mayo Clinic explains that the average human head weighs 12 pounds, but when it’s bent 45 degrees to look at a too-low laptop screen, it exerts nearly 50 pounds of force on the neck. The solution: Cornell University’s guide to neck strain recommends positioning your monitor at eye level—try stacking your laptop on a few books or magazines—to maintain healthy posture and protect from painful neck kinks. Additionally, when your back is against your chair, keep the monitor at an arm’s length in front of you, so you don’t end up straining your neck peering into the Gmail abyss.
The problem: Chronic shoulder pain often develops gradually, making it all the more difficult to recognize as an everyday issue. According to a Healthline report, this type of pain “often stems from prolonged, awkward movements” like reaching for the trackpad of your laptop. The solution: Armrests actually do more harm than good when it comes to your shoulder muscles. Consider lowering or removing your chair’s armrests all together, so your shoulders can properly relax while your back sits straight against the chair.
The problem: When propping your laptop on your legs or sitting at an ill-fitted dining room table, inevitably your screen will be too low. You’ll hunch over, causing a not-so-fun combination of posture problems and significant back pain. As Baptist Health points out, however, those back injuries can range in severity, from your run-of-the-mill muscle spasms to disk herniations. The solution: According to Time, “You want to sit in a way that the natural lordotic curve of your lumbar spine is supported.” In other words: Get yourself some support. If you don’t have an ergonomic chair, place a cushion or rolled-up towel behind your lower back. The University of Michigan’s health blog also reports that a chair that allows you to keep both feet flat on the ground while checking off to-dos will do wonders for discomfort. (Adjustable styles make this especially easy.)
The problem: Sending just one more email before bed night seem like a good idea in the moment, but the blue light emitted by screens restrains the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep cycles, the National Sleep Organization reports. Lower levels of melatonin makes it harder to fall asleep, which then affects your REM cycles once you do. While this may not seem like a true physical injury, high levels of fatigue can lead to decreased cognitive functioning, muscle weakness, and decreased immunity. The solution: Put away your electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime to give your brain a chance to transition out of work mode. Reading a book, writing in a journal, or doing a 10-minute meditation can activate the release of melatonin and help you sleep more deeply, so you’ll be ready to hit the ground running at that 9 a.m. meeting the next morning.
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