How to Improve Your Posture When You Work From Home, According to a Chiropractor
Straighten up while you tackle that to-do list.
Let’s face it: Working from home can be a pain in the neck—trust me, I should know. As someone with chronic back pain, I’m all too familiar with spending my days in excruciating pain if I moved the wrong way during a workout class or slept in a weird position. Ever since I started working from home, I’ve encountered more back and neck pain, as well as debilitating headaches that the strongest ibuprofen can’t cure.
I know I’m not the only one dealing with a lot of back pain. If you’re spending your days slumped on your couch or hunched over your computer, there’s a good chance you’re experiencing some discomfort. According to Keiko Finnegan, doctor of chiropractic at Kinfolk Optimal Living, sitting around the house all day can do a lot more damage than poor posture.
“Prolonged sitting is known to decrease blood flow to the brain, contributing to the likelihood of developing neurological disorders such as dementia,” she says. “Additionally, sitting weakens the muscles that hold us upright, turning off essential muscles in your low back, hips, and legs, which compromises our posture and function. The longer you sit, the more these muscles weaken. Eventually, the body starts collapsing much like a house with no foundation.”
But just because you’re working from home for the foreseeable future doesn’t mean you have to spend that time in pain. To help, Finnegan shares her expert tips for improving your posture and alleviating back pain. While you should always seek medical attention if your pain intensifies, these tips are designed to make your time at home more comfortable.
How to improve your posture
Whether you have a herniated disc or muscle strain, most of us would do anything to make that discomfort go away. Fortunately, Finnegan says there are plenty of ways to keep back pain at bay while you work from home.
Bring strategy to your seat
Unless your makeshift home office has a standing desk, there’s a good chance you spend the bulk of your days seated. However, Finnegan says it’s possible to keep your posture in check while you’re sitting down. The secret lies in how you’re sitting.
“Ditch the backrest and scoot to the edge of your chair so your butt is the only part on the chair and your knees are at a 90-degree angle with feet flat on the floor,” she says. “You will remain alert and focused as you are actively engaged in your seat. You’ll also resist the rounding of the spine, which can lead to neck and back pain.”
While you’re at it, go ahead and switch up your sitting positions every now and then. By switching which leg is crossed over the other, sitting cross legged, or taking wide stance with your feet, your body is actively combating the chair’s ability to collapse your posture.
Rework your office space
For many, working from home brings some freedom back to their nine to five grinds. Instead of spending eight hours in a crammed cubicle, you can do work from the comfort of your bed or answer emails while watching television. (Don’t worry, I won’t tell your boss.) The problem is that the cozy corners most of us gravitate toward aren’t built to support you while you hunch over your laptop for hours on end.
“The more we sit in a chair, the more our body morphs into a slumped posture,” Finnegan says. “Over time this creates a cast-like effect on our body. It becomes more difficult to stand up straight and we fall prey to upper back, neck, shoulder, and chest tension.”
To help, make sure the top of your laptop screen is level with your eyes. (You can easily do this by placing your computer on a stack of books.) Since you won’t have to tilt your head up or down, you’ll take a lot of pressure off your neck and upper back. Additionally, Finnegan recommends adjusting your keyboard.
“Make sure your keyboard is sitting at the level where your elbows are at 90 degrees,” she says. “If it’s too high or low, it causes tension in your hands and shoulders and can lead to carpal tunnel or shoulder dysfunction.”
Give yourself a standing ovation
Not to freak you out, but Finnegan says that sitting is the new smoking.
“As people are working from home, we have become professional desk jockeys,” she says. “If you sit for most of the day there is a chain of events that take a toll on not only your back and neck but your brain, too.”
To give your back, body, and brain the care it needs, rotate between sitting and standing: Studies show that taking two-minute walk breaks every half-hour can restore blood flow to the brain.
But why stop with two minutes? You can also improve your posture by taking a stand—literally.
“Poor sitting posture can easily translate into poor standing posture,” Finnegan says. “Start slowly by standing for 20 minutes every hour or standing for specific tasks, like making phone calls. Consider setting a reminder to change positions every 20 minutes.”
How to alleviate back pain while working from home
Working from home with back pain? No problem. Read on for these tips to alleviate discomfort.
Let it flow
Break out your yoga mat: Adding a vinyasa flow to your schedule is just what the chiropractor ordered.
“As much as we like to think our neck isn’t attached to our low back, all the muscles connect together through the fascia,” Finnegan says. “Take the time to move your body through a slow flow practice to create space and ease in the entire body.”
If your schedule is too packed to enroll in a virtual yoga class, you can squeeze a few moves in between Zoom calls.
Stock up on the essentials
According to Finnegan, you may already own the tools needed to alleviate back pain. For example, a gua sha tool isn’t only for your face. You can apply your favorite moisturizer to the part of your body where you’re holding tension and use the tool to knead into any problem areas.
“With the gua sha tool, gently glide over these areas finding points that are painful, tense, or bumpy,” Finnegan says. “When you find these areas, make a star-shaped pattern with the tool to help break up fascial restrictions. As soon as you begin to see redness or petechiae (small red dots), stop and move onto the next spot.”
Stretch it out
A little bit of stretching can go a long, long way. Finnegan shares a few of her favorite exercises to try: From neck stretches to lower back work and everything in between, there’s bound to be some stretching exercises that’ll ease your discomfort.
- To stretch the sides of your neck and upper back, hold onto the edge of your seat pulling your shoulder blades down. Bend your neck to the right, ear to shoulder, and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat both sides.
- Sit with your right leg crossed over the left in a figure four shape. Sit straight and lean forward. You will feel the stretch in your right buttocks. Hold for 30 seconds, switch legs, and repeat.
- Sit tall in your chair, twist to the right, and grasp the backrest to help deepen the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat to the left.
- Take a desk child’s pose. Stand tall in front of your desk, place both your hands, palm down on your desk. With arms straight, bend at the waist until your back is parallel with the floor. Feel the stretch deep in your armpits and sides of your torso. To deepen the stretch, drop your heart closer to the floor with every exhale.
- While seated in an upright posture, put the back of your left hand on your low back. With your right hand reaching over your head and resting on the top/left side of your head, tilt your right ear to the right shoulder. Gently pull your ear closer to your shoulder with your right hand. Now, turn your head to the right and drop your chin to the chest. You will feel a nice stretch in your upper left back.
- Extend your right leg in front of you. With your back straight, lean forward at the waist and feel a stretch in the back of your right leg. Hold for 20 seconds and then rotate your right foot to the right, and then to the left to feel the stretch deeper and in different spots of your leg. Repeat on the other side.
Not only will these moves improve your posture and relieve any tense spots, but stretching has also been linked to calming your mind and decreasing stress levels—and we could all stand to destress after a long day of working at home.