Follow These Ergonomic Tips From Our IBJI Experts
Is sitting the new smoking? According to a United States Census Bureau article, between 2019 and 2021, the number of people primarily working from home tripled. That means millions of people are leading more sedentary lifestyles, predominantly sitting which can cause health issues similar to smoking. You may be one of those workers in need of solutions for pain from sitting down or just looking for tips on how to prevent pain from sitting down all day.
Read on to hear expert advice from our IBJI Physical Therapist Bradley Phillips, PT, DPT, and our IBJI Health Performance Institute Stott Pilates Certified Equipment Instructor Yvonne Taylor Bennett, MS, NASM-CPT.
Work-from-home Pains & Risks
Two major risk factors for heart disease, according to The Heart Foundation, are type 2 diabetes and obesity. Prolonged sitting can cause both. But there are a number of tools and techniques home-based workers can use to stay healthy and avoid pain from sitting down all day.
The IBJI Rehab team has seen an increase in patients with low back and neck pain over the past couple of years due to the pandemic. This is most likely due to the increase in time spent sitting while working from home.
“…people were still working at their dining room tables in 2020 thinking they were going to go back to the office and never invested in a proper desk,” says Bradley Phillips, PT, DPT, who works at the IBJI Bourbonnais Physical and Occupational Therapy location. “When I see a patient, the first thing I do is an assessment.”
Bradley often discovers that a chair needs to be adjusted to avoid pain from sitting down.
“First of all, it needs to be adjustable in height,” he says. “Feet need to be on the floor. They shouldn’t be hanging.”
The Danger: Low-back Strain
Dangling feet can put increased strain on the lower back and on the hamstring muscles. They can also reduce blood flow. Both of these things can lead to pain from sitting down too long.
“The most important thing is to protect the spine,” he says. “I recommend a footstool or a box as a modified workstation. What I tell patients is that your knees shouldn’t be higher than your hips.”
Avoid Pain from Sitting Down by Having Good Posture
Desk height is another key component of a good ergonomic setup. “Arms need to be supported and they shouldn’t be flared,” Bradley says. “Ideally, a keyboard slides out. A close keyboard is important for wrist support.”
The Danger: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
The goal is to work without pain and symptoms. “A proper positioning of the keyboard can help reduce the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome in the first place,” Bradley says.
Many companies offer a work-from-home stipend that can be used to avoid pain from sitting down. You can use the money to purchase items that create the perfect ergonomic setup. In addition, your company may even have an ergonomic specialist who can assess your work-from-home setup via a virtual or in-person visit.
Make sure to reassess your setup periodically based on how you’re feeling. Slight modifications can make a big difference.
Pain from sitting down too much can be relieved by simply standing up.
“Try the high-low desk if you can,” Bradley says. “This helps you alternate between sitting and standing which, too long of either, can be problematic.”
One word of caution: You should not stand in bare feet or in slippers. This will take some effort since many of us prefer to take advantage of how casual and comfortable we can be while working from home. While we like to work in pajamas, slippers provide little to no support.
“Every foot is different,” Bradley says, adding that you should make sure you’re wearing shoes that offer good arch support. “I would go for more of a tennis shoe vs a dress shoe. No flip-flops!”
Some of the staff at IBJI like to recommend anti-fatigue mats which may be beneficial to stand on.
“It gets into individual preference,” Bradley says. “I tell my patients to start with the shoes first. You don’t want to spend a lot of money on things that can reduce pain from sitting down only to find out you don’t need them.”
Core Strengthening and Stretching
IBJI’s physical therapists can help you with specific exercises to strengthen your core muscles which support the back. Patients who regularly work with a physical therapist often find solutions for pain from sitting down. In addition to PT visits, Bradley encourages patients to perform little movements throughout the day.
“Ideally, if you can get up and walk around five to 10 minutes per hour, that’s the best thing,” he says. “Not all jobs allow for that, but it’s important to not stand or sit in one spot for too long.”
One exercise that benefits us, he says, is to extend backward with hands on hips.
“We’re great at bending forward all day, but we don’t tend to extend enough,” he says.
Perform this stretch five to 10 times a day.
“My patients tell me that they do this when they’re sore,” he says. “I tell them to do it regularly so that you don’t get to that point.”
It’s important to stretch the hip flexors and hamstring muscles because they tend to get tight from sitting. (Click on the videos below to see Bradley demonstrate how to properly stretch while in your home office environment.)
If you’re standing part of the day, other groups of muscles, including the calf muscles, can get tight. You can do a variety of exercises to combat that tightness, Bradley says.
“Ankle pumps and calf raises are useful exercises,” he says. While seated, you can try raising your toes.
Walk to Avoid Pain From Sitting Down
At lunchtime, it’s recommended to get outside whenever possible for a brisk walk to increase your cardiovascular endurance.
“You really want to be walking, in general,” he says.
When office workers were in a corporate building, for example, they would be walking to the water cooler, to the printer, or to a meeting room. All of those walks need to be replicated in the home setting.
Pilates Classes at HPI
IBJI’s Health Performance Institute (HPI) is focused on health and wellness. With three locations to serve clients and a variety of services offered including fitness classes, personal training, massage therapy, and more, HPI is a great source for professionals who work from home.
Yvonne Taylor Bennett, MS, NASM-CPT teaches Pilates classes at HPI and offers private one-on-one sessions by appointment.
She recommends the following three exercises to help workers from home alleviate pain from sitting down too long.
Ab Prep Exercise
This exercise helps to strengthen the abdominal muscles. Weak abdominals are one of the precursors to low back pain. The benefit of this simple exercise is that it helps individuals activate deep core muscles that reinforce proper posture and muscular balance.
Hip Release Exercise
This exercise is designed to do exactly what it says. It opens the hips and rotates it through full range of motion to release tension that comes from prolonged periods of sitting. Focused breathwork and light core activation are incorporated into the exercise to strengthen the core and maintain pelvic stability.
Heel Squeeze Prone Exercise
This exercise is great for opening the hips, and activating the core, gluteal and lateral hip rotator muscles. The benefit of this exercise is that it provides balance to gluteal muscle groups while stimulating and building strong core muscles. This exercise is performed while lying on the stomach with knees bent, heels together and toes pointed away in a V-formation.
“All exercises can be done in roughly 15-20 minutes or less,” Yvonne states. “The Ab Prep can be performed for two sets of 10 repetitions, the Hip Release can be performed for one set of three to five reps on each side of the body (right and left sides), and the Heel Squeeze Prone can be performed for one set of eight to 10 reps.”
Pilates classes and private sessions are offered in Highland Park, Morton Grove, and virtually. Please contact HPI at 224-765-5550 to schedule.
Need PT for Pain from Sitting Down?
Our IBJI Rehab team is waiting to help you alleviate work-from-home pains and the common pain from sitting down too long. We have resources available to keep you injury-free and at your best. If you’re experiencing neck or back pain or any other pain, whether it’s work-related or not, you can schedule an appointment without a physician referral.
“You can come to see us straight away,” Bradley says. “You don’t have to live with neck or back pain or soreness.”
IBJI has more than 40 rehab locations in Illinois and Indiana. Discover solutions for pain from sitting down. Find the closest IBJI rehab clinic near you.