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Is working from home causing you back pain?

lady home working at a desk in front of a window
If you work from home, it may be having more of an impact on your body than you think... Find out more about the effects and what you can do about it, here.

It’s safe to say that there has been a huge shift in the way a lot of us work over the past few years. In fact, the percentage of home workers rose from 5.7% in January 2020 to 43.1% in April 2020, which tells us that the pandemic had a big impact.1

While we’re now living in a (sort of) post-pandemic world, a lot of us still work from home for the majority of the week. UK statistics show that on average, office workers went to the office 3.8 days a week pre-lockdown, but now they go in much less frequently, at an average of 1.4 days a week.2 But what effect is this having on our health? And can working from home cause back pain? Or pain in the neck and shoulders? We’ll delve into the details here.

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Reasons working from home could be causing you pain

Sometimes it can be hard to pinpoint where exactly our discomfort is coming from. So to help you decipher just that, we’ve listed the different types of pain you may experience working from home and why…

Back pain

There are certainly perks to working from home, don’t get us wrong. But if you’ve switched to home working and you’re experiencing back pain, this could be a result of your change in circumstances. In fact, research conducted by the Work After Lockdown project found that in a survey of over 1,000 people, over 40% of the respondents reported increased musculoskeletal pain, like back ache, since working from home.3 Things like incorrect posture and lack of movement while working from home may be contributing towards your achy back.4

Neck pain

In a similar vein, if your neck is playing up, it might be down to your work setup. When your laptop or monitor isn’t positioned correctly, it can sometimes cause issues for your neck.

If you’ve watched your internal health and safety training, you’ll know what we’re talking about! Find out how to set up your space to reduce neck and back pain a little later on.

Wrist pain

If you’re typing away all day without the correct keyboard positioning, it may start to cause you some discomfort in your wrists. And even though those squishy wrist pads look like a good idea, they’re not actually considered essential for good ergonomics.5 So try to keep your arms flat on your desk to reduce your risk of wrist pain instead.

Hip pain

Sitting all day at while working at home might also leave you with tight hips, which can cause some discomfort. Also, bending forward while sitting could contribute to any hip pain you might be experiencing, as this posture can sometimes contribute to the shortening of your hip flexors.6

Knee pain

Similarly, sitting for long periods might lead to knee pain as this can apparently cause stress on the cartilage. This pain can include feelings of stiffness and soreness, so it might be a good idea to address your posture while sitting – or invest in an ergonomic chair for your home office.

What you can do to prevent it

We get that not everyone can choose where they work, so if you’re working for home for some or all of the week, we’ve got your back. Here are some ways you can keep back pain (and the rest) at bay while working from home:

1. Rearrange your setup

One of the best ways you can reduce the risk of muscle and joint pain working from home is by improving your setup. By this we mean your desk, your chair, your screen and your general working environment.

Try to keep your head level with the top of your display, with your wrists straight and your weight evenly distributed on your chair. In addition to this, it’s best to try and keep your legs and arms at a 90–110-degree angle.7

In terms of your equipment, another clever move is to try and choose a chair with a comfortable, ergonomic design as this will help to keep your body supported while working.

2. Keep an eye on your posture

When working at your desk, there are three key things to consider to achieve good posture. The first is to ensure your shoulders are relaxed and away from your eyes, the second is to keep your lower back supported, and the third is to keep your feet supported, either by placing them flat on the floor or on an elevated rest.7 Also, you might find that placing a cushion under your bum provides additional back support, which is great for long-term working sessions.

Handpicked content: What Is Nerd Neck?

3. Keep working from your bed to a minimum

Alarm goes off. Roll out of bed. Turn your laptop on. We know the drill. It can be annoyingly tempting to just stay nice and cosy and work from your bed. And while we hate to be the bearer of bad news, this isn’t the best idea for your posture. So if some bed working is non-negotiable for you, try to keep your bed bursts to a minimum and work in a more supportive setup for the majority of the day.

4. Take frequent breaks

To try and reduce the amount of time spent in front of your screen, you could try walking away from your home office for anywhere between five to ten minutes, every hour. Not only does this give you a chance to stretch your muscles, but it will give your eyes a rest too!

5. Invest in a standing desk

Another way you could try and reduce the pain of working from home is to get yourself a sit-stand desk. This would give you the option to stand up and stretch your legs while working, instead of having to sit all day. And interestingly, a Japanese study from 2021 found that participants who used a sit-stand desk reported less neck and shoulder pain than the control group.8

What you can do to support joints, bones and muscles

We’ve talked about the types of pain and we’ve talked about prevention tips, but is there anything else you can do to manage pain in general? You have a couple of extra options, which we’ll dive into below…

Supplements

Looking for some supplements and vitamins for bones to help provide a little extra support while working from home? Thankfully there are a few different supplements that might help. From taking vitamin C for bones to specific joint care glucosamine tablets, here are some options to consider trying:

  • turmeric – which supports joint health and flexibility.9 
  • magnesium – which helps maintain healthy bones and muscle function.10 
  • vitamin D – which contributes towards the maintenance of normal bones and muscle function.11 
  • glucosamine & vitamin C – which contributes to normal collagen function for the normal function of cartilage.12,13

Another way you could try and keep joint pain and stiffness at bay is by levelling up your exercise routine. Now this could be as simple as setting a timer every hour or so and stretching your body for 10-15 minutes at a time. Or you could do short bursts of exercise throughout the day – a 20 minute run and a 30 minute walk here and there really does add up!

You could also try adding some strength training in as well, as this can help promote a bigger range of motion in your joints and increase your flexibility.14 The key is to just focus on getting active as much as you can throughout the day.

If you need some inspo, why not try our screen break yoga as a starting point?

Yoga sessions | Screen Break Yoga with Sarah Malcolm | Holland & Barrett

The final say

Working from home can be a pain in the neck – literally. But that doesn’t mean you have to soldier on through the discomfort. Hopefully you’re feeling a little more equipped with the knowledge to help support your joints, bones, and muscles while working at home. 

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