The combination of less-than-perfect posture practices and more sedentary work-from-home conditions is prompting more people than usual to seek help, according to a Maryland physical therapist.
“We’re seeing postural issues; we’re seeing a lot of low back and neck pain and a lot of deconditioning, as well,” said Sebastian Cohen, a physical therapist at Kaiser Permanente in Lanham.
“All the ergonomic problems that we always see — have just been magnified in the last year,” he said.
Cohen said some workers-from-home who might have been considered “sedentary” before the pandemic have lost what was actually quite a bit of activity associated with commuting and office environment routines.
“If I’ve got to give you one order, it is move more,” Cohen said.
Fashioning a stand-up desk at home doesn’t require an expensive purchase when a dresser drawer or big box might work.
“If you work on a laptop, you can just plop an Amazon box on top of your desk, put the laptop up there. Now you can work a good five, 10 minutes standing up,” he said.
If you’re typically at the kitchen table, you can spend a few minutes on the couch; lean back with a pillow and laptop on your lap with your shoulders and elbows supported.
“Just try to find a couple different positions around the house that you can be in and then make a point of moving,” he said.
To be active without leaving your work area, Cohen recommends what he calls his “desk jockey stretch series.”
Set your smartphone timer and hold each stretch for 60 seconds.
- While seated, put an ankle on top of the opposite knee. If it’s too tight, lower the knee a bit by pushing out your foot. Your range of motion will improve when doing this routinely.
- Stretch the muscle along the top of your thigh by standing up with your hands on your desk with the chair behind you. Raise one leg behind you by putting your foot on the chair. Lean your hips forward.
- The seated hamstring stretch for the backs of your legs involves starting in a seated position. Scoot forward to the edge of the chair. Straighten out one leg and lean forward, hinging at the hip with a straight back. You can see a demonstration online.
Cohen said doing those three stretches on both sides of your body is a worthy six-minute investment.
His favorite exercise? The functional squat while sitting at your desk.
“Try standing up and sitting down 20 times. Now do that five times a day. If you are doing 100 functional squats a day … your legs will get strong, your back will be strong,” Cohen said. “Also, keep your hips loose and it’ll help you try to avoid a lot of the pitfalls we’re seeing in people who are home working — ergonomic patients with low back and neck pain.”
As for proper ergonomics at your desk, Cohen said the 90-90-90 rule applies.
Chair height should allow knees, hips and torso to be at 90 degree angles. The keyboard should be over your lap so your typing fingers allow your elbows to bend at a 90-degree angle. Elbows next to your body should be supported on arm rests. Looking ahead at the computer screen, the top of the monitor should be at forehead level.
You can find a pictorial demonstration and advice about ideal desk posture on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration website.