It’s official: we’ve been working from home for the better part of a year.
While some of us scrambled to buy ergonomic office chairs, keyboards and mice to make our at-home setup resemble an office, many people - especially those who flatshare - just don’t have that option.
Beds and couches have become makeshift offices and, without commutes, we’re more sedentary too, with the NHS estimating that the average adult spends around nine hours sitting a day.
So what has this done to our posture?
“There has certainly been a rise in issues regarding neck and back pain since the pandemic began and, in certain areas, an increased concern regarding posture and problems associated with it. Especially parents concerned regarding their children spending so much time in front of their screens,” Katie Knapton, founder of Physio Fast Online tells Yahoo UK.
“These issues arise due to the length of time we are spending in one position – as we are designed to move.
"The general advice is to get up and move at least every 40 minutes to one hour, and try and check you get out into the daylight for a break.”
Dr Emeka Okorocha, medical doctor and brand ambassador of AI-based fitness and lifestyle coaching app Freeletics, agrees that sitting in one place for too long is the main cause of lower back pain and neck spasms.
“This [sitting] could significantly affect your posture and normal spine curvature," he says.
"The normal discs in your spine over time can become compressed due to poor posture and your hip flexors can shorten and tighten, causing further strain on your lower back.”
What are "pandemic posture" and “tech neck”?
Pandemic posture is a term coined as a result of rising neck and back issues during lockdowns. It can also be linked to “tech neck” - which is when we are hunched over our laptops causing neck, back and shoulder pain.
“Tech neck is when your head is forward, shoulders are rounded, and your back slumped,” Dr Okorocha explains.
“Because of this position, it compresses and tightens the muscle, tendon and ligament structures in front of the neck while lengthening the muscles, tendon and ligament structures behind the neck, often causing pain.”
While the best way to treat tech neck would be to ditch our phones and laptops, this just isn’t realistic.
Instead, Dr. Okorocha recommends practicing good habits like stretching and taking regular breaks from our screens.
What are the signs and symptoms of bad posture?
According to the NHS, some common posture mistakes we’re making include slouching in a chair, hunching over our laptops, poking out our chin when we’re sitting, cradling our phones and rounding our shoulders.
“If you are uncomfortable and feel tightness in your shoulders or are suffering from an achy neck and shoulders you may want to review the way you are working and sitting,” Knapton says.
“Perhaps rearrange your chair and desk. However, there is no perfect posture or work set up.
"If you are permanently slumped you may get discomfort and some stretches and mobilising movements, such as yoga may help you feel more comfortable. But you may also get discomfort from being permanently held in a ‘correct’ position, again we just need to move.”
Dr Okorocha adds that signs of bad posture can vary widely and range from headaches to having a “hunchback”.
He continues: “Essentially, many of the body’s systems including musculoskeletal, cardiac, metabolic, ophthalmic, vascular and even psychiatric can deteriorate after prolonged periods of sitting down and looking at screens.”
Watch: What is long COVID?
How can you correct bad posture?
Dr Okorocha says it’s “imperative” that we get up regularly from our computers and walk around, get fresh air and do non work-related tasks during the day.
“People working from home should be aiming to do a form of physical exercise before or after the workday and ensure they are maintaining a healthy balanced diet,” he says.
Knapton adds that exercising and moving more is the key to correcting your posture. She adds: “Keeping strong, fit and healthy tends to help make you feel better and adopt a more comfortable posture.”
Knapton’s top tips for better posture include:
Practice relaxing your shoulders as we tend to carry tension in them.
Gently lifting your sternum (breast bone) and elongating the back of your neck - hold this for 15 seconds and repeat x3. Do this three times daily.
Take three nice relaxed abdominal breaths.
Allow yourself to relax - trying to maintain a very upright posture can lead to pain too.
Walking tall but not rigid.
Move and enjoy movement.
The NHS recommends laptop users should use a separate keyboard and mouse so that the laptop can be mounted and placed at eye level and, where possible, it should be placed on a stable base and not your lap.
How can those who work from a couch or bed correct their posture?
“There is no ideal work set up,” Knapton says. “Just try to get as comfortable as possible and vary the position. Move from the bed to the couch to standing (use an ironing board).
“Incorporate as much exercise, including cardiovascular, strengthening and stretches, as you can throughout the day. Try and get out for a walk during lunch or during another break.
"You cannot underestimate the benefits of these breaks and avoid those static work days for physical and mental wellbeing.”
Dr Okorocha says screen height is the most important thing for those working from home. “If your computer or laptop screen is below eye level then it’s likely hunching will occur.
"In an ideal world you’d have an adjustable stand, but if that’s not possible you can substitute a sturdy box or book to raise your screen up.”
What are the benefits of good posture?
“Health benefits of good posture include reduced lower back pain, fewer headaches, more energy, increased lung capacity and improved circulation and digestion,” Dr Okorocha says.
Knapton adds that a posture that makes you “feel good” is your ideal posture.
“This may make you feel more confident, taller, improve your mood, feel able to sing louder and speak better. This is very much an individual thing.
"The most important thing is regular exercise and activity which gives us huge health and wellbeing benefits and enables us to be more comfortable in whatever posture we choose to be in.”