Understanding the nuances of body pains during Work From Home is pivotal: Dr. Poonam Patel Vasani

With the ongoing global lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Work From Home (WFH) is the new normal. This transition has come abruptly. None of us were prepared for it. And expectedly, this sets a new precedent which is likely to continue beyond the lockdown. Companies like TCS have already announced that by 2025, 75% of their employees will Work From Home. 

At office, we have ergonomically designed workspaces, best suited for longish work hours. At home, working from couch, bed, etc. may not be a great idea. We need to adjust our workspace at home. This pandemic may be temporary but its impact on our body will be permanent,says Dr. Poonam Patel Vasani. In an exclusive interview, we spoke to her regarding the impact of WFH on our spine, joints and muscles. We also sought a few basic tips for our readers on how to adjust home office to avoid any form of body pain. 

CPO Innovation: Can working from home lead to body pains?

Dr. Poonam Patel Vasani: Most certainly – WFH (if not done properly) can cause back pain, wrist pain, neck and shoulder pain, leg cramps and joint stiffness. When you attend office, there is a routine for daily activities like sleep-wake time, exercise, office work, household chores and personal time. But while WFH, we tend to forgo our routine, our work extends beyond the office time. Sleep-wake cycle, diet and exercises go for a toss. All these factors ultimately impact our health – both physical and mental. This pain can be a new onset of pain or aggravation of a pre-existing pain condition like spondylosis, slip disc, sciatica, etc.

CPO Innovation: How can working from the comforts of home cause body pains?

Dr. Poonam Patel Vasani: Human mind and body seeks comfort. This results in us working from the bed/sofa/bean bag/any place which instantly suits us. Initially, this feels comfortable but over time, you start feeling a difference in your body. Also, when you WFH, you tend to overlap household tasks and office work. For example, you may be cooking while taking an office call. This causes stress, both physical and mental. Juggling multiple responsibilities at the same time may qualify you to be called a superhuman, but end of the day, we are all humans.

CPO Innovation: Who is at risk for developing body pains during WFH? 

Dr. Poonam Patel Vasani: Anyone. This is especially true if you are not aware of your posture and have not developed a specific work schedule and workspace at home. If you are suffering from diabetes, hypertension, cardiac problems, obesity, slip-disc, sciatica, spondylosis etc., you are at a higher risk. Being a smoker also increases your risk for developing muscle and bone pains.

CPO Innovation: How can one identify if WFH is affecting his/her joints, muscles and spine?

Dr. Poonam Patel Vasani: You should pay attention to the subtle signals which your body gives you at the onset. These signals are body stiffness, vague aches in back, neck, calves, occasional tingling in legs or hands, eye strain, irritability and lethargy. Ultimately there is back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, joint pains which can be crippling. This sets the ball rolling for many serious (but avoidable) medical conditions.

CPO Innovation: What can I do to avoid body pains while working from home?

Dr. Poonam Patel Vasani: You can avoid body pains by following a spine-healthy lifestyle. First and foremost, set a routine similar to the one you follow while going to office. Keep your time for household chores and office work separate. Inform this to your family members and at the office. Specifically: 

  1. Use a separate room for your office work. If this is not possible, make an office space for yourself in any room. 
  2. Make sure that light adjustments for workspace are suitable. If possible, adjust your workspace near natural light. Your screen should be perpendicular to the window. There should be no glare on your screen. Lights should not fall directly on your eyes or cast a shadow on your screen. A table lamp is also a good option.
  3. Take regular breaks every 30 to 45 mins from screen. Stretch your back, neck and shoulder for 30 to 60 seconds during this break. Take a walk around the house. This maintains the blood circulation in your muscles and joints and decreases repetitive stress injury. Drink at least 2 to 3 litres of water in a day.
  4. Walk when you talk, whenever and as much as possible. Use a headphone or speaker for calls. Avoid using phone while supporting it between neck and shoulder and typing simultaneously.
  5. You can alternate working on laptop between standing and sitting position. But avoid long hours of standing. Change of posture is the mantra for healthy spine and joints.
  6. Make sure to exercise for 30 mins during the day. It can be in any form suitable for you. Get adequate sleep for 8 hours and try to keep your sleep-wake cycle constant. Avoid smoking. Vitamin D deficiency can occur during this lockdown period as exposure to sun is less. Take your vitamin supplements as vitamin D deficiency can cause body pains.

CPO Innovation: One last question, how should one set up office space for WFH?

Dr. Poonam Patel Vasani:  Setting up a posture friendly workspace at home is very easy. Follow these steps:

  • Identify a chair and table for yourself. If you have an ergonomic office chair, use that. If you don’t have one, you can use dining table chair. Ensure that the chair you use has a back and arm support. When you sit on this chair, your feet should rest on the floor. Elbows and forearm should support on arm rest. If your feet do not reach floor, use a foot support or any object to rest your foot. Table should be at elbow level. You can keep a folded towel or cushion behind your back for support. Your work-related requirements like cell phone, charging point, documents should be within reach.
  • You can even work while sitting on your bed (make this as last resort). Just support your back with pillow/cushion along the headrest of bed. Keep laptop on a table on bed. You can even use a pillow for the same. Make sure that your screen is at eye level and you are not hunching over it.
  • Your laptop screen should be at eye level. You can use books or boxes to adjust your laptop height if you don’t have a laptop stand.
  • It’s always preferable to use an external keyboard and mouse for your laptop. Ensure your wrist is in neutral position while typing. It is preferable to use a computer from ergonomics point of view. 
  • Always keep your laptop screen clean from dirt and dust. A dirty screen will cause eye strain. Move your eyes from screen vision every 30 mins and focus on any distant object for 30 seconds. This reduces eye strain.

About Dr. Poonam Patel Vasani (MBBS, MD, FIPM)

Dr. Poonam Patel Vasani is an interventional pain management specialist, an expert in multidisciplinary management of chronic pain; including back pain, neck pain, knee pain and shoulder pain. She is the director of Spinalogy clinic (Kalyani Nagar, Pune) and is a visiting doctor/consultant at various hospitals. She has authored many scientific papers in Indian and International journals and contributed to textbooks on pain medicine.