As someone who's worked from home for nearly two years now, I can tell you that maintaining good posture is everything. After just a few weeks (or even days) of sitting in the wrong position, you are likely to start feeling plenty of aches in your lower and upper back which could potentially lead to long-term problems. With this in mind, I've gathered together some top tips on how to maintain good posture while working from home to keep your back feeling happy and healthy.
Many people aren't used to working from home, but the COVID-19 pandemic has forced everyone to get used to a new way of life. It's a big adjustment, and one that can affect our physical and mental health as well as our diet and sleep patterns. Not having an office setup can also heavily impact the strain put on our backs, which can inevitably lead to a weakened posture that can be hard to rectify.
Chartered physiotherapist and owner of Your Pilates Physio Lyndsay Hirst agrees it can be a difficult adjustment. "Homeworking can very commonly cause back pain because of the unsuitability of the work station setup," she says. "The added problem at the moment as we all face lockdown is the lack of ability to move around if you normally work in a large office space and spend time walking around the office to move; you lose that at home."
Below is a list I put together with the help of experts that include top tips for maintaining a healthy back and spine while working from home.
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1. Download an at-home yoga app
Just as if you were in your actual office, it's important to keep moving while working from home. This can be more difficult to do, as when we're at work, we are usually going for lunch, nipping out for coffees, and using the photocopier every now and then. Home can be cosy and make you feel a little lethargic, but you still need to move around whenever possible. One app that can make that a hell of a lot easier is the Office Yoga App, which teaches you how to perform certain moves usually from the comfort of your own desk chair.
Yoga is recommended by osteopaths, such as Natalie Nevins, DO, a board-certified osteopathic family physician and certified Kundalini Yoga instructor in Hollywood, California. “As an osteopathic physician, I focus a lot of my efforts on preventive medicine and practices, and in the body’s ability to heal itself,” she says. “Yoga is a great tool for staying healthy because it’s based on similar principles.” It's also a brilliant exercise for the mind and can help to keep you mentally healthy during this working-from-home period.
2. Perfect your work space set up
One of the most important aspects of maintaining good posture while working from home is your workspace setup. In offices, we have access to fancy spinny chairs, raised desktop computers, and workplace desk assessments. At home, it's all a bit more DIY.
Hirst explains the problem: “The majority of homeworkers tend to use a laptop rather than a desktop, meaning the screen is lower so they are having to look down rather than look forward at a desktop screen. Makeshift desks or sitting at kitchen tables cause further problems as the set up hasn't been designed for use as a desk.”
But that doesn't mean you can't do your best to replicate your usual comfortable working conditions to avoid backaches. "Where possible have your screen higher (using a desktop rather than a laptop if possible), to ensure your screen is at eye level," says Hirst. "Sit on a chair that is comfortable (place a cushion under your bottom), sit your bottom right to the back of your chair, place a small rolled-up towel in the small of your back to help lift your lumbar spine."
You can check out this guide by the NHS in order to set up a comfortable, suitable workspace at home.
My main piece of advice, as someone who regularly works from home, is not to work from the bed or sofa. Tempting as it may be (and I totally get it), working at a desk with a chair is much more conducive to keeping your back feeling good. I've experienced terrible back pain after a couple of days working in bed, and noticed it taking its toll on my posture. If you don't have a fancy desk and office chair at home, fear not; any table and chair is better than a soft, squishy surface.
You may want to invest in a little foot stool to keep you upright, too. This one by Amazon is simple and affordable, and with thousands of positive reviews, it clearly does the trick.
3. Follow some YouTube stretching tutorials
If you're not much into yoga, just make sure you're stretching out as much as you can in other ways. Perhaps the easiest way to do this is to follow a YouTube tutorial such as this one by Renown Health, which showcases a number of 'moves' you can do without even leaving your desk.
If you suffer with back pain particularly, then try this one by Doctor Jo, which is designed for those who suffer.
4. Maintain your sleep routine
As mentioned above, it's so, so important to work sitting upright at a table rather than staying in bed all day with your laptop. Not only does this impact your posture, it also can impact your sleeping routine. Your bed should be a place for slumber, not for work, and your brain needs to know this. When it does come time to settle down for the night, you'll look forward to jumping into your cosy nest even more so if you've stayed away from it.
If you want to take extra steps to keep an upright posture and avoid back pain while working from home, bed time is actually a great time to do so. Invest in an a Slumbar Pillow, which is an orthopedic tool you place between your knees while sleeping to keep things aligned.
5. Keep moving
If you're now showing any symptoms of COVID-19 currently, and now living with anyone who does (or anyone who's considered 'vulnerable'), you are still able to go outside to take a daily walk (which is especially nice if you have a dog!), while still practicing social distancing. Going for a walk daily is so important in order to get outside, have a break, and to get some fresh air.
If you're showing symptoms of COVID-19 and can't leave the house, keeping active is still possible. This could even be as simple as just getting up from your desk when you can, says Hirst.
“Get up and walk around every hour and stretch your arms to the ceiling; it is important to stretch your back into extension if you sit for long periods so stand up place your hands on your lower back and arch backward.”
If possible, you should try some more active exercise, too. There are a seemingly endless amount of ways to work out from home, as communities such as those at Psycle have come together to practice live streamed classes during closures. If you don't fancy this, try YouTube; the world is your oyster.