Millions of people around the world are facing different challenges working from home under coronavirus lockdown. One of those is finding ways to make the adjustment from office to home while maintaining physical and mental health.
Chiropractors in the UK, like many professions, have been forced to shut up shop during the lockdown to comply with social distancing rules. One, Dr Damien O’Dwyer, warns the difference between the office environment and the home introduces some risks - but has some advice to help people stay healthy.
Posture less important than movement
“When you’ve lost your specialist equipment, your office chair and desk setup, that introduces a risk,” says Dr O’Dwyer, who works at the New Milton Chiropractic on the south coast of England.
“The fact you haven’t got work mates around you to distract you means you get engrossed in what you’re doing, and that can be a further risk.” His key piece of advice is this: “There’s no perfect seated posture to sit for 8 hours a day. Moving is the important thing.”
Having a chair you can sit in comfortably, where your hips are in a neutral position with your knees no higher than your hips is also important, he says. “The best thing to do is to have a standing desk if possible, or go between sitting and standing,” he adds.
Marc Sanders, a chiropractor from the British Chiropractic Association, explains the best method for sitting: "Relax into your chair, making sure you have your bottom against the seat back and your shoulder blades touching the back rest of the chair. Your arms should be flat and your elbows level with the desk or table you are using. If it helps, invest in a seat with arm rests."
Most people will be working with screens, and Sanders has the following advice: "If you don’t feel comfortable in your current set up, try altering the height of your chair or screen so the latter is at eye level."
But for ensuring overall health in mind and body while working from home, Dr O'Dwyer suggests using the mnemonic device DREAMS to help remember some key methods.
- Drink water. “Keep a glass or bottle on your desk with you to make sure you’re remembering to stay hydrated throughout the day.”
- Rest. “Take a break around normal lunchtime, and get out in the sun if at all possible. Vitamin D is very important, especially for keeping viruses at bay.” He recommends taking a break from sitting at the desk every 45 mins to an hour. “Take opportunities. Whenever you take a phone call, stand up and walk around, it allows you to think more clearly.”
- Exercise. “Sitting is the new smoking”, is a phrase used amongst the medical community, O’Dwyer says. “It’s not good for you to sit all day, it drives the posture into a forward position with your arms and head forward. That sets you up for aches and pains and also drives your nervous system into a fight or flight response, hunching forward. It makes your brain think you're in a stressful situation.” A poor posture at the desk can even drive the nervous system to take energy away from the immune system.
- Alignment. There are a number of exercises you can do to help realign your body. O’Dwyer suggests the Brugger position, which is about bringing the shoulders back from a hunched up position. This can be done on a chair, and you can see how it is performed here.
- Mindset. “Be grateful you have a job to do, it must be doing people’s heads in not having stuff to do at home.”
- Support. “Keep in touch with people, at least in the virtual world, and offer support to people.”
The British Chiropractic Association has the following set of exercises it recommends for improving posture and helping to prevent back pain by promoting balance, strength and flexibility in the spine.
Once you've finished your work and you're looking to relax with some downtime, Marc Sanders has the following advice.
- "If you’re planning to use this time to sit back, relax and watch the latest television shows on Netflix and similar, get your posture right from the start. Try placing a small cushion between the small of your back and the back of the sofa to give you more support and avoid slumping for long periods."
- "Listen to your body and take care of yourself by creating and enjoying moments of peace throughout the day. My moment of peace is always a relaxing bath. If you’re having a long soak, make sure you have a regular stretch and move while in the tub. Many patients agree with me that a nice hot bath can ease off some of the daily muscle aches we all experience, so make sure you are set up for the ultimate unwind! Alternatively, listen to mindfulness apps like Headspace or Calm, sway along to some music or follow a yoga class online or via an app."
- "When it’s time to rest your head after a busy day, try and adopt a sleeping position which creates less physical stress on the back for a better night’s sleep. For example, lying on your side is better than lying on your front with your neck twisted to one side."
While Dr O'Dwyer's practice is continuing to pay front of house staff, Dr O’Dwyer is unsure of what support the government is going to be able to offer businesses like his.
However he is hoping they will see a rise in demand upon easing of the lockdown in the UK. “The situation has focused people on their overall health, and people are actively looking for things they can do to improve their health. We want to get the whole body to work together to give people the best opportunity of having good health.”
According to the NHS, most people in the UK who have chiropractic treatment pay for it privately, with sessions costing around £30 to £80.