As Victoria continues its lockdown and more than ever, many of us commit to working from home, chiropractors and other allied health professionals have reported spikes in neck and back injuries, which many attribute to less than ideal working from home conditions.

According to the Australian Chiropractors Association President Dr Anthony Coxon, his network saw a rise in cases of neck injuries, shoulder complaints and repetitive strain issues, within two weeks of the initial Australian lockdown period.

While many workers are ‘making-do’ at home with less than ideal ergonomic setups, Dr Coxon was quick to point out the ongoing effects that these setups may have. “For every two and a half centimetres that your head goes forward past your shoulders, it doubles the strain of the muscles in the back of the neck,” Dr Coxon said.

He explained that having a desk at a height appropriate to the body, as well as a supportive chair, goes a long way in improving the working posture.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Kermit Davis, PhD, who is an expert in office ergonomics from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. “The body doesn’t like static postures continually,” says Davis, who advocates regular breaks, as often as every 30 minutes, to improve posture and minimise injuries to the back, shoulder and arms.

According to Davis, who conducted an ergonomic assessment survey of 4,500 of his colleagues at the University of Cincinnati, many workers were undertaking tasks with chairs of the wrong height (43%). An additional 18% of users who had chairs with armrests were found to be misusing them.

Chairs were the central area of concern – Davis explains that in addition to incorrect height or armrests not at the ideal position, many respondents had chairs without back support – as high as 73% of respondents. “Many individuals did not have proper support of their lower back, maintaining the lumbar curvature,” he explained.

The height of monitors – in addition to many respondents using small or lower resolution screens than usual – was another common issue. 52% of participants recording monitors that were too low, and another 4% using monitors that were too high, relative to the workers’ eye height.

While Davis has emphasised the importance of a correct ergonomic setup at home, he says it doesn’t have to be the most expensive available options. There are many appropriate and well-priced alternatives, as well as ways to adjust your setup and make the best use of items you already have around the home.

Global property and casualty insurer Chubb recently undertook a survey of workers who had been moved to remote work during the pandemic, and results indicated that many are struggling with poor ergonomics in the home (see graph below), as well as unhealthy snacking habits, drinking more, and declines in mental health. However, many workers indicated that they would like to continue working from home more often, and most were able to maintain the same level of contact with their friends and co-workers.

The study highlights that beyond the physical demands of a changing workplace environment, it is also important to consider the ways in which you can support your mental health while working from home, as changes to your everyday routine can be stressful and demanding.

Procare Group’s guide to mental health management at home includes tips like:

  • Don’t forget to breath – focus a moment on your breath or try some deep breathing.
  • Take a break on your break – sometimes we need to slow down to speed up again. Take a moment to recharge.
  • Manage your music – be mindful of the impact different music can have on your mood
  • Don’t forget to move – exercise is proven to be one of the greatest mood boosters
  • Practice mindfulness – in difficult moments, pause and focus a moment on your environment.
  • Try mindfulness apps – check out Smiling Mind, Breathe or Insight Timer.