YOU (South Africa)
Are you suffering from pandemic posture?
Is working from home wreaking havoc on your back and proving to be a real pain in the neck? You could be suffering from ‘pandemic posture’. Here’s how to get rid of bad habits
AS I type this, I’m sitting with my shoulders hunched, my feet on my desk and my bum tilted so that I’m as close as I can be to lying down in a chair. Not exactly what you’d call the perfect posture.
But chances are you would’ve read this description and recognised it because you’ve done it yourself – or something similar.
Working from home may have plenty of perks but encouraging healthy sitting habits isn’t one of them. Many of us have used camping tables, coffee tables and often just our laps as desks with “office chairs” any decent company would ban at the door.
And after a year of working from home, it’s starting to show. Health experts are increasingly seeing the effects of what’s been called pandemic posture.
Chiropractor Dr Jason Liepner has noticed a drastic increase in the number of patients complaining about back- and neck-related problems at his practice in Cape Town.
“Stress and tension are now the main culprits causing both neck and back pain at my practice. I’ve also noticed an increase in patients presenting with stress-related headaches as well as an increase in posture-related spinal dysfunction.”
Dr Liepner says patients who’d normally respond quickly to a treatment now often require additional treatments, clearly indicating the increased stresses the body is facing.
WHY is the pandemic breaking our backs? Much of it has to do with the suddenness with which Covid-19 sent everyone home just over a year ago, Dr Liepner says.
“Companies had very little time to adapt and allocate resources to the new remote work setup. People also didn’t have much time or opportunity to explore the impact working from home might have on their bodies. They had to quickly set up offices, making do with what they could find.”
These makeshift workspaces are what have caused our backs to suffer, says Dr Matthew Levine, chiropractor at The Chiro Practice in Johannesburg, .
“Many people are at home working hunched over ergonomically incorrect desks or even worse, on sofas or beds, with their spines dangerously curved.”
What’s more, Dr Levine adds, many of us have no reason to get up from our seats the way we used to at the office.
“People spend hours in these uncomfortable positions with no reason to stand up and walk around, no social interaction and no need for lunch breaks or to end the workday at 5pm.”
If this continues, it’s probably just a matter of time before you develop back issues – if you aren’t experiencing them already. Here are some expert tips about how to avoid these problems.
FIND THE RIGHT FIT
“Find a desk at the perfect height,” Dr Levine says. “Your shoulders should hang neutrally, and your elbows should be at 90 degrees while you work so you aren’t forced to reach up or forward. Your screen should be at eye-level, so you don’t have to tilt your head up or down. Your feet should be comfortably on the floor with your knees and hips at 90 degrees.”
At a standing desk you should have your feet shoulder - width apart and parallel, knees gently bent, stomach pulled slightly in and shoulders relaxed and pulled back. The screen should be at eye level and arms bent at 90 degrees when using your keyboard.
Dr Liepner suggests getting creative by using home props.
“It doesn’t have to cost much. For example, use a scatter cushion behind your lower back, or place an old book or shoe box under your screen to lift it.”
THE 30/30 RULE
You have to keep moving. “You want a setup where you can change your body position every 20 to 30 minutes,” says
Tasha Connolly, a US physical therapist.
A prolonged hold of any position overstretches certain muscles and shortens others, which can create unevenness in your body, she explains.
Sitting too long can be bad for you. But so can standing for too long. The key is to move every so often and find a balance between sitting and standing.
Ultimately our bodies weren’t designed to be stationary, Dr Liepner says. “Set an alarm and every 30 minutes, walk around your chair twice, step outside for 30 seconds or pretend to get another cup of coffee.”