Even prior to the Covid-19 lockdowns, telework (a fancy word for “working from home”) had been steadily gaining popularity. Of course, the pandemic accelerated the trend, and more employees are logging remote work days than ever before.
Working from home has its advantages (for instance, we’re writing this in our underwear), but it’s not always easy. One big issue: Your home office probably isn’t designed for ergonomics. If you’re dealing with brand new sources of neck and shoulder pain, we’re here to help.
WhyYour Home Office is Hurting You
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, civilian workers spent about 42 percent of their work day sitting. If you’re working from home, we’re going to go out on a limb and assume that you’re spending nearly all of your workday parked in front of your desk.
“Working from home has definitely increased the strain people have been placing on their upper backs and necks, as many don’t have the same workstation setup they do in the office,” physical therapist Dr. Gina Kim tells Urbo.
“Therefore, if trying to work at the kitchen table or lying on the couch,for instance, folks are pushing their heads and necks forward, making those muscles work harder to support the head.”
Not having a supportive chair, or sitting at a desk/computer arrangement at the wrong height can seriously mess up your neck and shoulders. Luckily, if you notice these new pains early enough, you can utilize some stretches to alleviate these issues.
Stretches To Relieve Shoulder and Chest Pain
It’s a good idea to start with larger muscle groups and movements when working out tension. The shoulders and chest are great starting points. Dr. Kim suggests doing shoulder shrugs, scapular squeezes, and then opening up the chest muscles by using a foam roller. Here are her instructions for each stretch:
Sitting upright with both feet on the floor, first take a deep breath. At the same time, raise your shoulders to your ears. As you exhale, let your shoulders drop. That relieves tension in the upper trapezius muscles, which hold a lot of our stress.
While still in the same position, squeeze your shoulder blades together and down, as if you’re trying to put them into your back pockets. This opens up your chest and strengthens the upper back postural muscles.
Purchase a foam roller that is firm, smooth, and long enough to support you from the back of your head to your tailbone. Rollers with knobbly surfaces aren’t ideal for this stretch.
Place the roller on the floor and lie on it lengthwise with your arms open on either side, palms up. This is a great stretch for the chest muscles (the pectoralis major and minor), which become tight when you’re slouching.
Stretches To Relieve Neck Pain
After you’ve completed some shoulder/chest movements, you can move on to neck stretches. One of the best movements for your neck is neck retractions. Dr. Kim outlines this stretch:
“Start by sitting upright. Bring both of your shoulders back a little to open up your chest. Then, pretending that someone is trying to touch your nose, bring your head straight back. It’ll look like you’re giving yourself a double chin.”
“Keep your head level. You should feel a stretch at the back of your neck. Then release it slightly. Repeat 10-15 times. (Note: this puts your neck into proper posture, placing the head over the body.)”
Work On Your Posture
For the best work posture, you need to have a supportive chair and a stable table or desk. The goal is to keep your spine in its most neutral, naturally curved position. In other words, no, you can’t lay on the couch with your laptop on a pillow all day and expect to feel great afterwards.
Get a good chair or supplement one you already have with some lumbar support by using a horizontally-rolled up towel.
“Place the roll at the top of your hips with your low back against the chair,” says Dr. Kim. The towel roll should fit perfectly in the curve of your back, while also providing support while you’re seated.
You also need to make sure you aren’t straining your neck to see your computer screen. If you screen is too low or too high, or if you’re pushing your neck forward, you’ll lose the natural curve of your vertebrae.
Of course, if you’re struggling with chronic pain, you should always seek out help from a medical professional.