Makeshift workspaces causing postural problems for Brits working from home 1 in 10 resorting to painkillers to ease aches & pains

With schools and shops starting to open up, life may feel for some like it's starting to return to a new normal. Yet for many people now entering the twelfth week of working from home, the return to an office still seems a way off. In fact one fifth of working Brits (19%) don't expect to be back in their usual place of work until some point in July, with nearly one in 10 (8%) expecting to remain working from home indefinitely.

So with the UK Government continuing to urge those who can work from home to do so we took a look at how we’re coping with our ‘at-home office’ set-ups.   

A quarter of working Brits (24%) have taken up residence on their sofa with a laptop on their laps and one in four has taken to sitting on the bed or the living room floor (17%) to work. The majority of those working from home have tried to adapt their working space to make themselves more comfortable, for example by putting a cushion under their bottom (30%) or using books/board game boxes or other household objects to raise up the laptop or keyboard (21%) to a suitable level.

But with nearly half of those working from home (45%) saying they are spending more time at their home workstations for longer periods of time than they would normally do at their usual place of work, it's not surprising that many are experiencing postural and muscular problems. 

Seven in 10 Brits currently working from home (70%) say they are experiencing more aches and pains in the back, neck, shoulders, legs and joints, more problems with eye strain, and more headaches than usual when working from home. Worryingly this is leading some (13%) to take more painkillers than they normally would to ease aching muscles. 

The physical effects of poor posture while working from home are perhaps unsurprisingly felt most keenly in the younger generations, who are less likely to have a dedicated desk or workspace at home. 

Our Professional Head of Physiotherapy, Marc Holl says: “Lockdown happened so quickly that a lot of people were simply not properly equipped to work from home for a prolonged period. The challenge with working from soft surfaces such as sofas and beds is that they don't provide good lumbar (lower back) support. And with laptops on laps, as we hunch over to read and type, we’re placing greater strain on our neck and shoulders. Under normal circumstances people may work from home like this every once in a while, but over a prolonged period like lockdown, the odd muscular niggle in backs, necks and shoulders can start to turn into a daily dull ache. Not only can this physical pain cause discomfort, but it can also begin to impact people’s mental health, especially as they continue to face uncertainty about when they can return to normal working conditions.”

To help maintain good physical health while working from home, Marc recommends following these five simple but effective tips which take only minutes to perform, but will encourage good posture and combat the effects of sitting for long periods.

Start your day by stretching out your back. It’s normal for some back exercises to cause mild discomfort in the spine, so don’t worry if this is the case. Two that are easy to try are:

  • Back flexion stretch - While lying flat on your back (you can do this on the floor or on the bed), hug both knees into your chest and flex your head towards your knees, so you’re curled up in a ball. Hold for 10 seconds.
  • Side bends - While standing, slowly slide your hands down the side of each leg, going as far as you can until you feel any stretch or discomfort. Hold for 10 seconds and ease yourself back to standing. Repeat on the other side.

Perfect your posture. Whether working at your kitchen table or your sofa, there are small tricks to helping your posture. Ensure your bottom is as far back in the chair/couch as it can be and that your monitor is at eye level. If your desk is too low for this, use a couple of books or board games to raise the height of your laptop/monitor and if you’re on the sofa use a cushion.  When working from your sofa in particular, ensure your knees are at a 90 degree vertical bend, you might need to rest your feet on a cushion to do this. To create better lumbar support, roll up a towel or use a small cushion and place it in the small of your back. 

Make your workstation as comfortable as possible. If you need to, place a cushion on your seat to make it more comfortable and try to work near a window to get some natural sunlight to make your lockdown workstation somewhere happier to be. 

Take regular breaks from your makeshift desk every 30 minutes or so to encourage blood flow to muscles. Keeping your body moving allows the blood to flow, lets your muscles stretch and also gives your eyes a rest. If you’re short on time this 5 minute workout will help you stay active, boosting concentration and promoting good health (and you don't need to change your clothes to perform the exercises).

  • Walking High Knees (1 minute)
  • 10 x Shoulder Circles
  • 10 x Arm Circles
  • 10 x Squat
  • 10 x Reverse Lunge Reach Back
  • 10 x Low Side to Side Lunge

Keep hydrated. Not only will this help to keep you switched on and better able to concentrate, but it will also help to keep headaches at bay and help with eye strain. Fill up a glass of water or your water bottle in the morning and make sure to keep this topped up throughout the day every time it becomes empty. 

Last updated Tuesday 9 June 2020

First published on Tuesday 9 June 2020