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Read our expert's advice on looking after your body when working

Read an expert’s advice on staying healthy when working away from the office.

AS WE ADAPT to new hybrid working models, looking after your body as you work requires a little bit more thought than before. The likes of fancy rolling chairs that were once uniform in offices have often become a luxury for those who work from home.

Even those who do have the perfect work-from-home set-up may still run into problems. We spend more time at home, and not having to leave for the office might mean we are less mobile throughout the day. Of course, working from home gives you the power to get a workout in during the day or even before work starts, but it is important to be aware of your activity levels as you work from a home office. 

Being mindful of how we treat our bodies as we work is important, as certain injuries can have a debilitating impact on our lives. Setting yourself up for success by ensuring you have the best possible home office set up and managing pain when it does arise are important factors in living a pain-free lifestyle. 

To ensure we cover all the bases when it comes to looking after your body, especially key areas such as the neck and back, we have enlisted the help of Ciara Black, a physiotherapist who operates the AgeWell Physiotherapy service, which delivers individualised exercise rehabilitation to adults in their own homes. Ciara will provide expert advice on the best way to look after yourself when working from home, and what to do when pain starts to impact your life. 

Work Environment 

Commenting on ideal work from home environments, Ciara says to keep it simple. “Comfort is the main thing. In terms of any sort of back health or overall body health, the big priority is you’re not staying in one position for too long. If you have something that’s comfortable, that’s probably more important than a fancy ergonomic desk that’s set up for you to be working from like you would in your office.” 

Comfort is key for home offices, but that doesn’t mean you should be lying in bed while working, Ciara adds. ”It’s definitely not ideal to be working from your bed and like anything, if you stay in one position for a long period of time, you’re bound to get stiff, get sore, and that’s where injuries creep in. If you’re working from home I recommend having somewhere that’s comfortable to work, where you can put your laptop at eye height, but the more important thing is to get up and move throughout the day.” 

Get Active 

As Ciara mentioned, getting active is crucial in keeping your body healthy. One of the perks of working remotely is no longer having to commute a great distance or be stuck in traffic on your way home. Ciara believes the best thing to do to stay healthy is to use that time that would have been spent commuting on exercise instead.  

“It’s not about going for a run every morning, you could do a 15-minute walk around the block, go and get a coffee before starting work. That’s probably more sustainable, and then take regular breaks throughout the day as well. If you were in a work situation and commuting in and out of work, you’re probably spending 15 minutes pottering around your house and then walking to your car, train, or bus, walking up and down the stairs, walking to get your coffee, walking to the canteen, so try and mimic that in a home environment.”

younghappyfemalestudentstretcheswhilesittingonthecouch Shutterstock / Lukasz Dro Shutterstock / Lukasz Dro / Lukasz Dro

Small amounts of movement during the day add up and help you stay healthy. “It doesn’t have to be a 30 minute yoga session at lunch, it could be spending 5 minutes doing a bit of stretching, or it could be getting up and doing ten squats or ten pushups at the counter. There’s been a lot of talk recently about ‘exercise snacking’, so instead of going to the gym for an hour, you’re breaking up your day by doing ten-minute bouts throughout the day.”

Posture 

While working, many of us may feel guilty about not maintaining a ‘perfect’ posture, but Ciara reassures us that there are more important aspects at work for preventing injuries. “To be honest, there would’ve been a lot of talk about getting your chair at the perfect height or maintaining an upright posture, and trying not to slouch, but there’s not strong evidence to suggest that that will prevent back pain. The strongest evidence out there is to be regularly changing position because our bodies are designed to move. So if you’re trying to hold this perfect upright position all day long, that’s probably more detrimental than getting up and moving around regularly.”

Pain Management 

If you regularly suffer from back pain, you know the impact it can have on your day-to-day life. According to Ciara, over 80% of people will suffer from back pain at some point in their life, so you are not going through it alone. Whilst all you may want to do is lie in bed or on the couch as you wait for the pain to subside, that’s not always the best plan of action for treating back pain. 

“Our backs are strong, but often what happens when people get back pain is that they get worried about it because it can be quite debilitating in the short term. The biggest advice would be not to take to the bed, but to continue to do gentle movement throughout the day and let your pain be the guide for when you can up your exercise. If you’re having difficulty for more than a couple of days, I’d definitely recommend going to a physio, and you don’t need a referral from a GP for a visit to a chartered physio.” 

Ciara advises that the large majority of back pain will subside within 6 weeks – a long period of time, especially if it’s getting in the way of your day, but most pain will go away before that. Until that point, managing the pain by keeping active as best you can, visiting a physio, or taking painkillers with the guidance of your pharmacist is the recommended course of action.

“I definitely wouldn’t recommend someone with back pain to push for an MRI or an x-ray, especially in the acute phase. That’s not really recommended and can often result in poorer outcomes. So keeping on top of the basics, movement, maintaining a good diet, making sure you’re getting good sleep, and managing your stress – that’s what the strongest evidence is for.“

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