Physical therapist says people can avoid injury even if they don’t have the ideal workstation
The global spread of COVID-19 has forced people into their homes in a time of work-from-home with curfews, lockdowns and stay at home orders. While hundreds of thousands of Bahamians continue to work from the confines of their house, physical therapist Dr. Miquela Rolle says they need to do their best to set up ergonomically-friendly workstations to reduce aches and pains and avoid injuring themselves.
The ideal at-home workstation, Rolle said, should entail having a computer desk, a computer chair and lighting that will support the eyes for people to see properly at the computer. And she said working on a desktop is preferable over a laptop even though it’s portable and mobile.
“Everyone’s working at home – even kids. We were almost forced at a moment’s notice to just readjust our whole schedule in life. That being said, the demands of work and school still continue. But for most people, they really don’t have a home office with a desk with the proper desk height, proper chair, and proper lighting, but the work still has to go on.”
The Bahamas has 70 confirmed cases of the global coronavirus pandemic, nine deaths and 792 people in quarantine. Worldwide, 2,623,231 people have been infected with 182,992 deaths as of Wednesday, April 22.
Six weeks into working from home for non-essential workers and students, Rolle, a physical therapist at Paramount Rehabilitation and Fitness, said she has had people reaching out to her complaining of classic symptoms of people who are working at home, but who don’t have the ideal setup to do so.
One of the first people to reach out to her, she said, was an information technology (IT) specialist, complaining of tingling in his arms and fingers. The IT specialist was working from home at a makeshift desk, and under increased work demands.
“Being IT, everyone needed him for some sort of assistance, [even] I called him and said I need to remote into my office, how do I do this sort of thing and that? I spoke with him virtually on the phone via video and saw his workstation. For his height, he was definitely putting himself in a bad posture. His head was in a forward position, his hands weren’t properly on a desk, and plus his work demand increased being home.”
Rolle spoke to the IT technologist about stretches and exercises he could do to alleviate his pain and encouraged him to check in with his doctor to see if they would want him to do any further testing or imaging.
“I told him I definitely think it was his posture and related to the way he’d been sitting and lack of changing going from a sitting to a standing position.”
Rolle recommends people working on laptops alternate between sitting and standing every 20 to 30 minutes.
Within two to three days of giving the IT specialist advice as to how to set up his desk, and what stretches to do specifically for him, she said he reported the numbing and tingling in his fingers, felt better.
He also made sure he did not sit too long in an awkward position or posture.
Rolle said one thing most people are guilty of, is working from their bed.
“The bed is absolutely the worst place to work because there is no ergonomically right way technically to set up a work station in your bed. There are ways you can set it up, but it’s not the ideal place to be working from – especially for long periods. If you’re going to shoot a quick email – fine, but if you’re there and you’re actually doing a lot of paperwork or reading, or corresponding, that’s not the best place to work from.”
She encourages people with external keyboards and external monitors to use them. For those that don’t, she said they should not sit in one position for longer than 20 to 30 minutes at a time.
“Changing your position is going to be your best defense in preventing an injury from working from home when you’re sitting in chair or couch,” said Rolle.
“Some couches can provide some support depending on the height of the individual and the couch – but most chairs or couches are going to need some type of extra pillow to support the lower back or the mid-spine. People also want to make sure if they’re sitting at their dining room table, to be careful of the table’s hard edges and put a cloth or towel under their forearms as they work. If working for a long time, they should also secure their forearms on a towel to make sure they’re not pressing too much on their forearms.”
In terms of the lighting, she said they want to be aware of glare.
“Make sure that you have good lighting support in the area where you’re working. If you can, ideally, put your laptop or your computer perpendicular to a window.”
The physical therapist said people working from home need to be conscious and aware of whether they are getting too much light or too little light, which she said can also cause a person to strain, by moving forward in a rounded posture of forward head and shoulder position.”
Rolle urges people to not ignore any pain they may feel at this time and attempt to ignore and work through symptoms.
“People kind of ignore the aches, the pains, the signs,” she said.
Signs she said may be tightness in the muscles, headaches, numbness or tingling in the forearms, fingers and can even be pain or numbness that travels from the head and neck down into the hands. If a person suffered from lower back pain before, she said they would more likely suffer pain in the back if they’re assuming awkward positions working from home.
“If you’re having pain, you’re having it for a reason – do not ignore it.”
Rolle, herself, does not have the perfect at-home workstation and is working from a laptop, but she said she makes the adjustments throughout the day to avoid injuring herself.
“I can get away with a couple of things I need to do here and there quickly. Because I’m working from my laptop, I will work from a sitting position for a little while and then I would go ahead and stand.”
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