Are You Settling or Sitting Into Self Isolation: How To Minimize Sitting and Best Set-up Your Home Office

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There is no question that the past few weeks have been unprecedented and fraught with challenges that many of us could never have anticipated. For many people, as we navigate the new norms we are also navigating new personal circumstances.

For a large group of our clients that has meant working from home with makeshift set-ups juggled between childcare and space sharing. Throughout several of my virtual appointments with clients this week, neck, back pain and headaches have been a prevalent complaint. The effects of sitting are not new to us but now we are seeing people sit significantly more than they did previously and in less than ideal positions. The reality however is that there is a lot you can do to maximize work space to better support both your productivity and your health.

Here are some of my top recommendations for creating an ideal work space at home that won’t leave your body aching by the end of the day.

Physical set-up

In an ideal world we would want you to be seated at a desk with your feet flat on the ground, your chair positioned to a height where both your hips and knees were at 90 degrees and arm rests supported your arms in just the right position to reach your keyboard with your elbows again at 90 degrees.

I can tell you that my dining room table certainly does not meet that requirement and my beaten up chair is less than adjustable.

Another recommendation we often give our clients is that they use a desktop over a laptop. Laptops make us choose one of two evils. Either your gaze is downward straining your neck or your shoulders are hiked up causing tension in your upper back. However, the issue I’m hearing is that for most, laptops and tablets are more accessible right now forcing clients to choose a stiff neck or a sore back.

If you are struggling to set up your workspace at home, I suggest the following DIY office hacks.

  • If your feet are dangling when you sit at a chair, place a few books under your feet until they rest flat and your knees and hips are comfortably at 90 degrees.
  • Choose a hard chair over a soft chair or couch and use a rolled up towel for lumbar support.
  • No arm rests, no problem, a pillow on your lap can offer support and take strain off your shoulders. Old breastfeeding pillows are an excellent prop.
  • Elevate your laptop to the height of your gaze about 20 inches straight in front of your eyes. Use a spare keyboard or purchase an inexpensive one online so your hands are in the right position.
  • On the phone a lot? Try to use speaker phone so you are not cradling your phone between your ear and shoulder (that is of course if you don’t have children asking for snacks or help on the potty like at my house). 
  • Were you used to a sit / stand desk? Fluctuate between the dining room table and the kitchen counter to limit both stagnant sitting and standing.

Logistics of Working at Home

While physical set up can have a big impact on how your body feels while you work, the organization of your day can also affect how you feel. It is very tempting to sit in one place and hammer out as much as you can but your body is sure to feel the effects.

As much as possible try to reproduce some of the habits you had in the office to create a better place and relief both for your body and mind. Some of those measures might include:

  • Limit the length of time you spend sitting to 40-50 minutes. Studies show you are rarely productive beyond that time period anyhow. 
  • Keep a water bottle nearby but only fill it half way. This will encourage you to get up and move as well as hydrate.
  • Make sure to give yourself time between meetings and virtual appointments, if even 5 minutes. This will let you sneak in movement and stretching breaks as well as reset your mindset between calls.
  • Schedule nutrition breaks that involve you getting away from your desk. Our nutritionist and naturopath both suggest snacks that have lean protein and healthy fats to balance blood sugar and keep your energy up.
  • Set a start and end time to your work day where possible. This is an exceptionally stressful time and minimizing additional work stress and engaging in coping activities like family time, movement and good sleep are key to keeping you healthy.
  • Have an individualized stretching program that can bookend your day and keep your muscles limber. Here is a stretching routine we prepared for our clients.

Regardless of your new normal, one thing is certain, our best chance of enduring self isolation is to do it with a focus on wellness and health that will give us the resilience we need during this difficult time. If you are struggling with how to do that, please don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our therapists. We are available virtually to support our community and clients until we can see each other face to face.

Melanie Stevens Sutherland, Clinic Director & Senior Orthopaedic and Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist

Melanie is a graduate of McMaster University and brings 17 years of experience as a senior physiotherapist to Body Co. She has enjoyed a long tenure working with active populations at prestigious sport medicine clinics. Past clients include Provincial, National and Olympic level athletes as well as members of the National Football League, the Canadian Football League, the Ontario Hockey League, the American Hockey League, the National Lacrosse League and Major League Soccer.

Following the birth of her own children, Melanie developed a strong interest in women’s health. She has taken specialized courses in pelvic floor physiotherapy and women’s nutrition. She is passionate about helping women find strength and confidence in their post-natal bodies following pregnancy and delivery.

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