The recent shift from office life to Zoom life and, to some extent, back again, has created its share of dislocations. Though the ability to do back-to-back Zoom calls from the comfort of home has had its charms, sitting immobilized for 40+ hours a week has not. All that lockdown time on your duff, crouched over your laptop on the kitchen table – aka, the makeshift, ergonomically-awful, pandemic ‘home office’ – has led to a considerable rise in muscle pulls, pain and damage, or what chiropractors and alignment experts call “tech injuries.” Yes, the pandemic really is the gift that keeps on giving. (Hey! Enough already!)
For the last 16 or so months, all those hundreds of daily, small postural compromises we’ve unconsciously made while being tethered to computers and devices, have taken a toll. These folded over, rolled and forward-jutting body shapes we’ve assumed —sometimes for hours at a time—got repeated over and over, until they started pulling millions of spines out of alignment.
The result? Structural issues like back pain and hip imbalances which have triggered problems body-wide. Why? The nerve roots that run through the spinal canal are sending information throughout the nervous system, and when they get pressed on, that causes localized dysfunction. Think headaches, digestive problems, and even fertility problems as being just a few of the unfortunate results.
So, how to correct those injurious habits and turn those injuries around now before they put you on the chiropractic table? Take a few pro tips to help you tune back into less pain, better alignment and injury-free living:
1) The dreaded, but all-too-common, ‘Forward Slump.’
When you reach for a keyboard, your shoulders roll forward and your spine rounds. Your back is put into a negative stretch while the front of your body compresses, causing back pain. Oxygen flow is diminished, causing low energy and foggy thinking. The forward slump can even lead to a negative outlook—it’s a posture of defeat. Hardly a recipe for a productive day!
The single most important thing you can do to combat the Forward Slump? Improve the ergonomics of your workstation, no matter where it’s based, and no excuses.
If you’re WFH or going the hybrid route and the boss isn’t subsidizing the home office, you owe it to your health to make a small investment in a simple, ergonomically proper set-up. What you’ll need to spend to get it is peanuts compared to multiple sessions of spine re-alignment, not to mention the value of no pain or damage.
The Anti-Slump Prescription:
— Get off the couch, the bed or kitchen table and get your feet flat on the floor, thighs parallel to the ground. You can also raise your feet on a footrest if need be, to help keep muscles loose and combat shin splints, tight calves and hamstrings.
— Your elbows should stay close to the body with forearms and hands placed parallel to the desktop, with no unnatural raising of the wrists to meet the keyboard.
— If you’re tilting your hands up and leaning your wrists on desk surface, pillows, knees and so on, you’re asking for wrist problems and even carpal tunnel, so remember, parallel is key. A wrist rest can also be a big help here too.
— Invest in an ergonomic chair that supports the natural curve of the spine and avoids spinal compromises.
— Set a timer or reminder to follow the forty-five-minute “get up and off your duff!’ rule and move your body, even if just for a minute or two to encourage better blood flow and circulation.
— Get into the habit of shrugging and rotating your shoulders frequently and/or making big circles with your arms to open up your chest and back.
— At night, before bed try doing chest- and back-opening postures such as restorative yoga poses like the reclining cross-legged pose or a few minutes on a foam-roller to help open up your back.
2) The biggest drag of mobile devices – it’s ‘Text Neck!’
This is a common misalignment of the handheld-gadget generation. Your neck juts forward as your eyes gaze at a device that’s held out in front of you or low down. Squinting to read an overly small font causes the same effect—you tend to jut your head forward to read.
If you chronically look down, you will overstretch the back of the neck—and possibly cut off your breath too. Tension headaches and migraines can ensue; so can tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, numb or tingling arms, pain between shoulder blades, and shoulder tendonitis.
Maintain an eye-level gaze no matter the device and ensure the font size is large enough to see easily. Never hold phones and tablets at lap level. Not only is it terrible for your reproductive system to have wireless devices anywhere near your lap, it angles your chin down and strains the neck.
The Anti-Tech Neck Prescription:
Practice holding devices at eye level as you type, or use your phone’s dictation tool for texting. This spares your wrists and forearms unneeded stress. It may take a day or two to master, but after that it’s smooth sailing.
If you’re planning on a lot of air travel this season, then take along a portable, goose-neck stand so you can park your phone or tablet as close to eye level as possible while reading or viewing media. When you’re a passenger by train or car, a small travel pillow placed under your elbow on the armrest will help you hold your device higher.
At your desk, ensure the center of your screen is at eye level whether you’re sitting or standing. If you use a laptop, raise it on a platform, or a stack of books. Add to that an external keyboard and an ergonomic mouse to counter any over-rotation of the wrist. To switch things up a bit further and encourage more daily movement, consider topping your work surface with a simple, inexpensive adjustable height standing desk converter and toggle back and forth between sitting and standing throughout the day.
Last but not least, practice the habit of bringing awareness to your body posture throughout the day. Notice if you’re holding your breath – people often do this unconsciously when feeling stressed – which further constricts the spine.
3) Damn, my wrists are killing me!
After so many months of poorly aligned desks, keyboards and bodies, one of the most common complaints WFH-ers are being saddled are ‘repetitive stress’ injuries, particularly in the wrists, which can be quite painful but a few stops short of the even more debilatiating carpal tunnel. Before your wrist pain gets to a carpal level problem, your best bet is to recognize the injury, put the brakes the behaviors that are triggering the pain and take action to combat the problem.
As carpal tunnel syndrome left unchecked can require surgery, first up, check in with your doc for a diagnosis. If it is carpal, you’ll need to consider the options, with surgery being the absolute last resort. If it’s not carpal, but the easier to manage repetitive stress injury, think rest, healing, recovery and wrist-supportive strategies.
The Anti-Repetitive Stress Injury Prescription:
The prescription for treating this kind of repetitive stress is fairly simple, and you can do as many of them simultaneously as you like. Any and all will go a long way to helping to rest and repair your overworked wrists. Start by:
— Giving your hands a time out, every hour or so. Shake them out and stretch out your fingers to encourage circulation and counter the effects of curling your fingers around a mouse or across a keyboard for extended periods.
— Whenever possible, give yourself keyboard-free time, and dictate emails and texts to reduce strain.
— Massage is helpful for pain and inflammation reduction and aid healing.
— Cool inflamed tendons and reduce swelling in the wrists and hands with ice packs.
— During the day and in acute situations, consider wearing wrist splints to provide additional support when keyboarding is unavoidable.
— You can also try sleeping in wrist splints for a few nights for added wrist rest and relief, and to prevent hands or wrists from winding up in odd sleep positions that can make pain worse.
Keep it moving with the ‘Morning Mobility Drill.’
Before you get out of bed in the morning, start your day with a simple, 5-minute Morning Mobility Drill. It’s a pleasant way to ease into the day, whether you’re spending it in your PJs or dressing up to go to headquarters. It’s a great way to prime the pump for the day ahead, ensuring your joints move fluidly and countering stiffness and soreness. Do the following moves lying down, on your back, in any order you like, repeating each movement 10 times:
- WRIST ROLLS: Raise your arms straight toward the ceiling. Roll your wrists in circles, clockwise and counterclockwise.
- SCAPULAR SHRUGS: Raise your arms straight toward the ceiling, elbows locked. Push upward so your scapula (shoulder blades) rise off the bed, then release.
- OVERHEAD REACHES: Raise your arms straight toward the ceiling, palms facing up and fingers interlaced. Reach your hands as high and as far back toward the headboard or wall behind you as possible. Return to the starting position and repeat.
- REACH AND PULSE: With your hands on the headboard or wall behind you, push in pulses while pressing the small of your back into the mattress.
- PRAYER STRETCH: Clasping your hands in front of your face, with your elbows and forearms glued together at 90 degrees to your torso, reach your hands over and behind you to the back wall. Then return them in front of you and, with your elbows at your belly button, stretch clasped hands towards your feet, forearms still glued together. This should be one smooth movement. In Prayer Pose, do Wrist Rolls, clockwise and counterclockwise.
- FOREARM CIRCLES: Extend one arm straight above the shoulder. Keeping the arm locked straight and upper arm stationary, circle the forearm in big circles, aiming to get your thumb close to your bicep. Repeat with your other arm.
- ANKLE ROLLS: Start with your legs straight and relaxed. Make big circles with your feet, clockwise and counterclockwise.
- POINT AND FLEX: Start with your legs straight and relaxed. Point your toes to the bed then flex the foot the opposite way. (You can do both feet at once.)
- KNEE CIRCLES: Start with your legs straight and relaxed. Lift one knee up to 90 degrees and circle your foot in the air, drawing a big radius with your toe, clockwise and counterclockwise. Repeat with your other leg.
- HIP SWIVELS: Bend your legs and place your feet hip- distance apart, halfway to your hips. Swivel your hips from side to side, allowing your knee to fall toward your opposite heel.
- EGGBEATERS: Do Knee Circles with both legs at once, feeling the movement in your hips.
- CHIN TO CHEST: Tuck your chin inward, stretching the back of your neck.
- CHIN-UPS: Keeping your head flat and looking at the ceiling, reach your face upward to the ceiling, lifting your neck off the bed.
- SIDE TO SIDE: Shake your head “no.”
- EAR TO SHOULDER: Stretch your right ear to your right shoulder, stretching the left side of your neck. Switch sides.