Whether you are working from home or heading back into the office, computer-related neck and back pain has worsened over the past year due to an assortment of bad habits.
Dr Elie Romanos, specialist orthopedic surgeon at Fakeeh University Hospital in Dubai, says the most common posture problems are due to sitting for prolonged periods of time on unsupported furniture, like couches, beds, or kitchen chairs.
During lockdown, people found themselves spending long hours hunched over screens in different areas around the house, with little to no awareness of the effects on the spinal column.
“People don’t account for proper wrist support when working on laptops,” said Dr Romanos. “There are many cases of nerve compression signs at the elbows or wrist joints.”
He also noted that there has been a rise in cases of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, which is a condition that causes tingling, numbness and pain in the hand.
“The only way out of this back or neck pain epidemic is for people to know what the best posture is for their bodies and to act accordingly,” he advised.
Dr Romanos explains that pain from the spine is divided into two parts.
First, there is muscular and/or articular pain, which is strictly in the neck or the lower back.
Second, there is the neurological pain, such as sciatica, which happens when the nerve in the spine is irritated or compressed and radiates down to the fingers or feet.
“It’s important to notice where the pain is coming from and how long it has been going on and what are the signs associated to it,” he said.
When pain is too much
If the pain happens more frequently than normal, or there is nerve pain, it can be serious. In rare cases, if a person with neck pain is experiencing a loss of balance or control of fine finger movements; or in the case of low back pain, if they are losing control or sensation over part of the lower limbs or even over bladder or bowel function, then they should seek help urgently at the nearest emergency department.
If neck, back or wrist pain becomes unbearable, lasts more than a day or there are associated neurological signs, do not hesitate to go to your doctor and get professional help. Otherwise, Dr Romanos recommends:
Sit on a comfortable chair
This sounds obvious, but chairs at home are not like chairs in the office. With the very real possibility of work-from-home extending into the foreseeable future, it is wise to invest in an ergonomic chair designed to support the neck and back.
Knees, ankles and hips at 90 degrees
It might be hard to sustain this rigid posture as you spend hours in front of a screen, so whenever you catch yourself sitting in any other position, remember to switch back and relax your joints and muscles.
Silicone padding for wrist support when typing
Our wrists and fingers undergo excessive strain when they do not get the necessary support. Small gadgets like these can make all the difference.
Screen at eye level
The cervical spine should not be bent backward or forward at any point. You can stack books or boxes to make sure you are not bending to see the screen.
Breaks every 45 minutes
There is nothing more important than taking a break every 45 minutes to stretch for a couple of minutes. If you can, walk around a bit to stretch out your muscles. This will avoid any tension, relax your joints and muscles and give your eyes a break from the screen.
Ice packs or heating pads for pain
Do not ignore pain. If you feel like your muscles are tightening or your back is stiff, try one of these strategies. For acute injuries or pain and noticeable inflammation and swelling, use an ice pack. For muscle stiffness or pain, use a heat pad.
Get good sleep
There must be a separation between home and office, even if that means working in a different room or space. If you catch yourself sleeping in uncomfortable positions the might cause harm, try using support pillows throughout the night.
Get a comfortable mattress
Relaxing your bones and muscles does not only happen when you are sitting down. People roughly spend a third of their lives lying in bed and ensuring that you have the right mattress for your back support when sleeping is vital for healthy posture.