Home working? Top Tips for MSK health and wellbeing

Written by Nicola Hunter, 07 October

Leading Physiotherapist, Nicola Hunter, shares her advice and tips on looking after your musculoskeletal health while working from home.  

Few of us are lucky enough to have a proper home office with large desk, office chair and sufficient space to work in comfort and free from distractions. A survey earlier this year by the Institute of Employment Studies (IES) revealed a significant increase in musculoskeletal complaints. Many of those surveyed reported new aches and pains, especially in the neck, shoulder and back.

For those with a long term health problem such as arthritis the impact in terms of increased stiffness and discomfort is even more significant.

Leading Physiotherapist, Nicola Hunter, shares her advice and tips on looking after your musculoskeletal health while working from home.

Do a home working risk assessment

Employers have a statutory duty to look after the health and safety of their employees. This means doing a proper risk assessment of the ‘workplace’ and putting in place measures that reduce the risk to the lowest possible level.

For people with long term health conditions this includes making reasonable adjustments and modifications to the ‘workplace’ or ‘work arrangements” so they are able to work comfortably and without exacerbating their condition. If you are finding yourself with aches and pains from your home working set-up, ask your employer for support.

Home office ergonomics - take a common sense approach

The problem with working on a sofa, bed or kitchen table is that you quickly get into a poor posture. If you do this for days on end you can become stiff and knotty in your neck, shoulders and lower back leading to discomfort and pain.

  • Use the biggest table and most comfortable upright chair you have (you need a table that is high enough to give you knee clearance with enough space underneath to move your legs freely when sitting)
  • If you do not have a proper office chair, ask your employer . If you have to sit on a dining chair, sit on a cushion to increase the chair height and roll a hand-towel to put in your lower back to give extra support.
  • If you use a laptop, make sure you have a separate keyboard and mouse.
  • Use a laptop stand to get the screen at a comfortable viewing height - the top of your screen should just below eye level.
  • Make sure you sit directly in front of your screen and not at an angle to it.
  • Do you have enough light to see your work clearly? Add a task light if you are having difficulty seeing.
  • Is there glare from a window or an overhead light on your screen that is distracting or making you sit in a poor or awkward posture? Move your screen or use a blind to reduce the glare.
  • Are you able to set your computer, laptop or tablet so that you can stand and work for a while? Alternating between sitting and standing throughout the day is good for your physical health.

Sit less move more

Even with the most ideal office set up in the world we all need to move.

Get up from your desk and have a stretch every 20 minutes. Simply stand up put both arms above your head and stretch up to the ceiling so you are making yourself as tall as possible. Then put your hands on your hips and stretch backwards to reverse a forward curve in your neck and back.

You should get up from your desk to walk around for 5 minutes every hour. Try and use the flexibility you have working at home to go out for brisk short walks. The Public Health England App Active 10 logs your daily walking minutes and brisk minutes. It’s a great way to log your activity and to make sure you are moving enough.

Stay connected

Working from home can add to feelings of isolation if not managed, which can have a negative impact on our overall wellbeing, so staying connected is really important.

Staying connected will mean different things to different people, so find out what works for you.

Make some time in the day to check in on your work colleagues and make sure they are ok. Don’t just focus on work but also initiate scheduled virtual coffees, for example, as a way of keeping in touch and breaking down ‘virtual’ barriers.

Asking how colleagues are doing and sharing how you’re feeling is also important. This can be challenging for a lot of people so if you’re struggling, talk to your manager, a colleague, or an organisational wellbeing support.

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