ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Ann Arbor was recently named one of the best cities in which to work from home, but what does that mean for those of us living the work-from-home lifestyle?
For one, it means that we are more sedentary. Long gone are the days of getting up to run to a copy machine or socializing at the water cooler.
It also means that the normal wear and tear of sitting at a desk all day has more of an impact than what it used to.
David Arend, a physical therapist at Orthopaedic Rehab Specialists in Ann Arbor, said that even before the pandemic, people were becoming increasingly sedentary as our lives became more convenient.
The unhealthy habit of not moving was exacerbated as more and more members of the workforce began working at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The normal steps of getting ready for work, getting in the car, walking from a parking lot inside a building, getting up throughout the day, conversing with coworkers, the normal things that we do we’re just simply not doing anymore,” Arend said.
Here are a few things to keep in mind during your workweek:
Sitting all day and not being as active leads to issues in the neck, upper back, shoulders and lower back, according to Arend.
He explained that inactivity leads muscles to become unconditioned. This can cause problems during strenuous activities, like shoveling snow, lifting heavy objects or doing sports.
“It’s a very challenging time and I think people need to be mindful that they need to move throughout the day,” Arend said.
Not moving can make easy tasks, like going up and down stairs or carrying laundry, more challenging as muscles weaken and endurance is lost.
Movement is also especially important for athletes who haven’t been able to do their regular conditioning or practicing over the past year. Weaker muscles, lack of practice and lack of endurance can lead to noncontact injuries for athletes who haven’t been conditioning to the same extent they did pre-pandemic, according to Arend.
Moving around and doing something for the upper and lower body to get your blood flowing can help avoid the breakdown caused by inactivity.
Make Moving a Habit
For many of us, working from home brought out our worst habits, like hunching over a laptop for hours without moving.
As you get motivated to move, try to make it a habit.
Arend said that those who find themselves to be mostly inactive should take the time to be more mindful about their movement. This could involve getting up every hour to stretch, going for a quick walk or doing some chores.
“Breaking up your day, that way you’re not in the same position for an extended period, is the biggest thing to prevent break down of your body,” he explained.
Movement-based habits might also look like doing some bodyweight exercises like squats or pushups. Setting a goal to do 10 or 20 squats every hour or so, or using resistance bands to help work the upper body can help keep muscles healthy.
Whatever you choose, Arend recommends doing some kind of movement about every hour.
Making movement part of your routine will also make it less of a stressor and will help prevent longer-term issues.
Check Your Posture
It’s challenging to remember to have good posture when at a desk all day but staying aware of how you are sitting can help prevent exacerbating aches and pains.
Arend said that even those with good ergonomic WFH setups and home offices may still have difficulty as inactivity can lead to postural problems.
Simpler isolated injuries, minor issues and strains can be aggravated by inactivity and develop into more complex problems, he said.
Standing for a while, or alternating between standing and sitting, is a solution that Arend tells patients. This helps with getting blood flow to the legs and to prevent the hips from always being at a 90-degree angle.
Right now Arend sees more patients with spinal and shoulder issues but that doesn’t mean that he won’t see more hip and sitting-related issues in the future.
He said that those who are older and who don’t have joints in good shape may experience these issues sooner than a young person who is equally as inactive.
“Our bodies are most healthy when they’re moving and a lot of that is just walking for the hips,” Arend said.
Be Aware of Repetition
For those of us who are typing or on the phone all day, Arend recommends wrist or pectoral arm stretching throughout the day.
“A lot of people can be susceptible to getting carpal tunnel from sitting and typing, so getting ahead of that by doing some simple stretches that don’t take a lot of time is definitely a way of staying on the better side of what can happen down the road, and prevent surgery or something like that,” he said.
Using a headset instead of holding a phone to your ear can also help cut down on repetitive motions.
Moving around and changing things up can also prevent the fatigue of everyday WFH activities, added Orthopaedic Rehab Specialists Outreach Coordinator Melissa Pohorence.
“It can bring your mood down, which can make you more aware of what those aches and pains are,” she said
Physical therapy can also help community members identify and develop habits that will help prevent breakdown and pain.
For those with specific concerns about their aches and pains or WFH habits, Orthopaedic Rehab Specialists offers in-person and telehealth appointments. It also offers free assessments to help community members begin to deal with issues they are experiencing.
Find the ORS Ann Arbor office at 3921 Jackson Rd and online at www.orsmi.com/ann-arbor.