October 15, 2021

As the world changed overnight from the pandemic, it ushered in a new era of remote work for millions of Canadians. As we adapted to this abrupt transition and began working at home, often hunched over laptops in awkward positions for hours, a rise in musculoskeletal injuries emerged.

Over the past two years, Athletic Therapists have noticed increased musculoskeletal strains and injuries, particularly as we became less active during the pandemic.

As Athletic Therapists have an active role in the prevention of injury from repetitive motion, lack of movement, and strains on certain body parts, which can all be caused by improper desk setup, we wanted to give you tips for better work habits — whether you’re at home or back in the office!

What Causes These Injuries?

According to our Athletic Therapists, when a poorly set up workstation meets a lack of movement for prolonged periods, pain happens. This causes people to sink into poor posture, sit in a twisted low back position or have an elevated shoulder, and over time causes pain, discomfort, and injury. This is all made worse by not having an ergonomic workstation at home or even grabbing the first chair available rather than one designed for work.

Whether at home or in the office, not enough movement is bad for your health. To avoid sitting for too long, Certified Athletic Therapist Lindsey Parent recommends setting a timer to remind you to stand up and move around every 30 minutes to ensure you have enough activity in your day and exercising different muscles, or use a small mug or water bottle to prompt you to step away from your desk for refills, adds Certified Athletic Therapist Alicia Crelinsten.

What Are the Biggest Concerns About an Improper Work Setup?

When a person's workspace fits them ergonomically it reduces the risk of strains, sprains and other musculoskeletal injuries. Many of the injuries working from home lead to are in the neck, back, and wrists. This means it’s critical to set up a workstation that fits you no matter where you work! We highly recommend using a desktop computer or adding a separate keyboard and mouse for your laptop.

As for your workstation setup, set your chair to the right height and sit square to your computer with the screen at eye level. For laptop users, use a stand to raise your screen and use a separate keyboard. This way, you don’t strain your neck looking downwards and don't run the risk of putting extra strain on your wrists and forearms.

If you begin to notice pain or experience injury, we recommend that you visit an Athletic Therapist as early treatment is important! Athletic Therapists can use their expertise to evaluate joint movement, along with static and dynamic posture while paying particular attention to problem areas. They will identify what the root cause is to recommend improved posture or adjustments for better movement.

What Exercise or Stretches Do Athletic Therapists Recommend?

To put it simply, Alicia says move when working at a desk! Here’s a list of simple exercises from Lindsey and Alicia to help you target the top 3 areas:

  • Neck
    • Chin tucks - Sit upright and look straight ahead, placing a finger on the chin. Without moving the finger, pull the chin and head straight down until a good stretch is felt at the base of the head and top of the neck. Hold, then bring the chin back up.
    • Levator Scap stretches - Sit up straight with both hands at the sides. While keeping everything else still, rotate the head to the left about 45 degrees, tilt the chin downward until a good stretch is felt on the back right side of the neck.
    • Neck stretches - Gently move one ear down towards your shoulder until you feel a stretch on the opposite side. Repeat on the other side.
  • Back
    • Wall angels- Place your butt, back, and head against the wall, then slowly glide your arms up and down the wall in a “V” to “W” pattern.
    • Cat-camel- Begin on all fours, slowly lower your head, while you raise your back up, then slowly raise your head into extension, while dropping your back into a downward arch.
    • Back extensions- stand up, put your hands on your lower back and slowly bring your hips forward while breathing out.
  • Wrists
    • Forearm stretches - Keeping your elbows straight, put your palm out (like a stop sign), fingers up and use your other hand to apply gentle overpressure, point your fingers down (as if showing someone your ring) and use your other hand to apply gentle overpressure.
    • Partner hand stretches- Slowly lean backward, gently helping your partner stretch while making sure he or she keeps a forward gaze, feet flexed, toes pointed upward, and back long. Hold the stretched position for 30 seconds, relax briefly, and repeat.

Making Your Work-From-Home or Office Workstation Better: Tips From Athletic Therapists

First off, it’s important to start the day right! In the morning while sitting in a good postural position, Lindsey suggests putting a piece of tape horizontally between your shoulder blades. It will act as a biofeedback cue when your posture breaks down by tugging on your skin and reminding you to keep correct posture.

As for your workstation, whether you’re working from home or the office, here are some tips to have a proper setup to lessen your discomfort and reduce injury!

  • Chair
    • Adjust the back, arms, and height to fit your needs at your desk.
    • Staying seated too long isn’t healthy, so be sure to incorporate standing or stretch breaks to stay active.
    • If your feet don’t touch the ground, put a yoga block or couch cushion underneath your feet.
    • Roll up a towel and place it between the curve of your low back and the back of the chair to maintain proper lordosis in your L-spine.
  • Desk
    • If possible, choose a sit-stand desk to reduce your daily seated time.
    • Make sure your desk allows room to be seated comfortably on your chair, and adjust monitor or keyboard height/distance.
  • Monitor
    • Maintain proper line of sight, 20-30 inches away with the top of the screen just below eye level.
    • Make sure to take breaks from looking at the screen - look out the window to focus on something in the distance every hour.
    • Have a post-it note or picture on your screen that every time your eyes glance at it you remind yourself to fix your posture (sit up tall, bring shoulders back and down, chin tuck your head so your head is not creeping closer and closer to your screen).
  • Keyboard/Mouse
    • When typing, keep your wrists straight/arms at sides for best positioning.
    • Keep your wrist/forearms and the backs of your hands in line, so you’re not dropping your wrists into flexion or extension. You can use a rolled-up dishcloth as support If needed.

No matter whether you’re working from home or are back in the office, proper care of your body is key to feeling your best. Focusing on the musculoskeletal system, athletic therapy can help prevent and manage injuries obtained in either work or play. It’s not just for athletes!

If you’ve already experienced a musculoskeletal injury, find a local athletic therapist for active rehabilitation that assesses the whole body and treats the cause. Make sure to stay up to date with athletic therapy by following us on Instagram and follow our new Facebook and LinkedIn pages as we continue to provide you with more exciting looks into the field of Athletic Therapy!