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As work-from-home remains one of the top preferences of employees, you need to set up an office that will not only be beneficial for your productivity but also your health. Failure to set up an ergonomic space at home can lead to health issues such as back pain, which according to the World Health Organisation, 619 million people are suffering from back pain in 2020, a 60% jump from 1990. 

That being said, GulfPhysio physiotherapist Kieran Sheridan warned against downplaying musculoskeletal issues as it can worsen one’s bone structure.

“If the discomfort of the back is left overlooked, there will be structural changes of the spine and musculoskeletal imbalances,” said Sheridan.

Sheridan identified some common mistakes in working from home that can cause back pain:

1. Working on the bed

Whilst working on a non-ergonomic table is already bad for your posture, working on the bed is worse. Sheridan said working on the side of the bed with the laptop on your lap will encourage improper posture.

“Since the laptop screen is low, it isn’t optimal viewing because you will need to hunch your back and look down,” Sheridan advised.

If working on the bed cannot be avoided, Sheridan advised putting a pillow behind the back as it rests against the headboard. Then, the laptop can be placed on a cushion or your lap.

“Another way is investing in a low table so it can elevate your laptop for optimal viewing as you sit on your bed without straining the neck,” Sheridan said.

2. Distracted whilst working

Multi-tasking can be efficient for some people but if you keep distracting yourself with binge-watching and playing mobile games, it could be bad for your back and eye health.

Sheridan opposed working in a leisure room because of tons of distractions that can worsen one’s working habits. 

For example, working whilst watching your favourite TV show can cause spine issues. If you want to watch television, make sure you are observing proper posture and that the television is supporting optimal view as it can hurt your neck.

“If you watch television whilst working, chances are it will hurt your back. Make sure the television is at eye level so that it won’t strain your neck. I also advised against playing mobile games or using social media all the time because excessive phone use can lead to back pain as people tend to have bad posture when looking down on their phones,” Sheridan pointed out.

“These activities, since it is excessive screen time, can also lead to eye problems and can disrupt one’s sleep,” added Sheridan.

3. Not taking breaks

For some, working from home allows them to be more productive and do more tasks. However, if they don’t take breaks and have stretches every few minutes, it could lead to burnout and increasing stress levels.

“You should have a schedule for eating snacks and taking a small break or stretching a bit. There is research that shows taking breaks can improve productivity and boost one’s focus so it is advisable to recover your strength,” said Sheridan. 

4. Working on the sofa

The couch may be a comfortable piece of furniture to sit on so why can’t we do work together? Sheridan said it was not a good idea. 

“Over time, your muscles will be strained and you will also feel numbness because your body is stretched vertically and it is immobile for hours,” Sheridan explained.

One alternative to your old office is an adjustable office chair that can help promote good posture and prevent musculoskeletal issues.

“You should have equipment that can support your back and your screens should be at an eye level to prevent looking down on it and avoid neck pain,” said Sheridan.

5. Disregarding mental health from back pain

A lot of people miss out on protecting their mental health but Sheridan warned that back pain from working from home shouldn’t be ignored.

“The emotional issues you get from straining your back can range from anxiety, stress and depression. You could also get sleep deprivation,” said Sheridan.

“What’s worse, it will also lead to avoiding your friends, public gatherings, and being aloof at social settings because you don’t want to be open about your struggle with back pain,” Sheridan also said.

Thankfully, Sheridan said there are ways to make work more productive whilst keeping your back in check.

How to cure back pain

With hours of being immobile, Sheridan advised getting physical activities before or after work. 

“There are remedies for back pain and these are accessible at home. To cure back pain, one must have increased physical activity,” said Sheridan.

Sheridan said arch and plank are some exercises that treat back pain. Doing plank exercises involves maintaining a position that is like a push-up for a maximum period.

“It targets muscles in the upper body, core, and lower body,” said Sheridan.

Arch exercises are when you lift specifically the arch in your foot whilst maintaining structure and strength. You must sit or stand with your feet parallel to each other.

“The way to do it is to keep your toes and heels in contact with the floor then roll your weight to the outside of the foot as you lift the arch and hold,” described Sheridan.

You can also do active stretching, which can be done when a person holds a pose for 15 seconds.

“It’s good for improving one’s posture because it helps promote muscle strength and proper alignment,” said Sheridan.

“It shouldn’t be confused with dynamic stretching, which requires more movement,” added Sheridan.

You can also try doing heel drops, which help stretch the Achilles tendon and calf muscles.

“You can begin by standing on a step with your toes hanging off the edge. Slowly lower the heels below the level of the step hold for a few seconds and then raise it back up. You can do this every 10 to 15 times,” Sheridan said.

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