Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Is Working From Home Taking a Physical Toll on Your Body?

physical toll on body Remote work makes life incredibly convenient. Workers don’t have to worry about their commute. Employers don’t have to pay as much overhead for utilities. But there are some downsides to working from home.

You may not realize it, but working remotely can take a physical toll on your body. Some of the issues are familiar to anyone who works in an office. But there are also some unique physical risks associated with working from home.

Neck and Back Pain

Anyone who stares at a screen for most of the day is at risk of neck and back pain. Some experts call this tech neck, but that isn’t an official name. To put this in perspective, one survey found that 45% of remote workers started experiencing joint and back pain since switching to working from home. When asked if there is new pain or worsening pain since working from home, the percentage increased to 71%.

The problem comes from how we sit when on screens. Whether it is a computer, tablet, or smartphone, we tend to lean forward. This is incredibly bad for your health. Remember that, on average, adult heads weigh about 11 pounds. When you lean forward, you put all that weight on your neck. Even worse, it is in an unnatural position.

Neck and back pain aren’t the only issues associated with this. You may also feel muscle spasms, headaches, or neck stiffness. If it gets bad enough, the discs in your back or neck may bulge. In the worst-case scenario, they may even rupture.

How to Reduce the Effects

The good news is you can take steps to reduce this type of pain and stiffness.

Start by choosing a desk chair with good lumbar support. Confirm that the chair supports your body weight, so it isn’t left on your spine.

Always try to avoid leaning forward. Here’s an easy way to think of the position you want to be in. If you fall asleep, your head will lean back, not forward.

Take a few quick breaks (even just a few seconds) to move your shoulders and neck regularly.

Consider getting a footrest as well. Preventing your feet from dangling reduces leg pain. This also adds support to your entire body. The result should be less back strain. 

Wrist Pain and Carpal Tunnel, Especially From Laptops

Wrist pain and potential carpal tunnel or numbness are known issues for people who type a lot. But the fact that many remote workers use laptops makes this even worse.

The issue comes from the small keyboard combined with the low screen. The combination means you are more likely to hunch forward. Additionally, your wrists will not get the support they need.

The other issue with laptops is that they encourage you to work in unusual locations. Sitting in an unsupportive desk chair is bad enough. But working from a bed or couch can even be worse. That is particularly concerning given than in a British survey, 24% of respondents said they are working from their sofas and 17% are working on the floor. This applies to both your posture (your neck and back) and your wrists.

How to Reduce the Effects

You can reduce these effects with a few simple actions. Start by making it a point to sit at a table or desk. Make sure you have a supportive chair as well.

If you can, use a separate mouse and keyboard. These steps help keep your wrists in the ideal neutral position. Set up the screen so it sits level with your eyes. You may need an extra monitor or a laptop stand.

Eye Strain and Blue Light

Eye strain is another issue that is common among office workers but even worse for remote workers. With remote work, you spend more time staring at a screen.

Consider, for example, talking to a coworker. In the office, you could get up, walk to their desk, and speak to them in person. There would be no screens involved. With remote work, this becomes a Slack conversation or video call. Your eyes never leave the computer screen.

Blue light also contributes to eye strain. Your eyes have to work harder when focusing on screens with blue light. Unfortunately, most digital devices emit blue light.

How to Reduce the Effects

There are a few things you can do to reduce eye strain. Start by seeing what you can do to reduce the amount of time you spend staring at a screen. At the very least, look away from the screen for half a minute or so every once in a while.

You can also adjust your computer, so the screen is about 15 or 20 degrees less than horizontal eye level.

To deal with blue light, consider blue-light-filtering glasses. You should also use the 20-20-20 rule. Take a 20-second (or more) break every 20 minutes. During this time, focus your eyes on something 20 feet away.

If you make those changes and still deal with eye strain, consider getting your eyes checked. You may want computer glasses. These can reduce strain even if they have a minimal correction.

Health Risks of Being Sedentary

There are also plenty of health risks associated with being sedentary. Experts have expressed concern about these for years. But those concerns only accounted for an office setting. The risks can increase even more when working remotely.

After all, there is no need to get up for the commute. Even if you drive to work, you will walk to your car to do so. Then, at work in an office, you at least get up a few times. Maybe you’ll collect documents from the printer or get coffee.

All these small movements are less likely at home. To make matters worse, many remote workers find themselves working longer.

That’s problematic because being sedentary can increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes.

How to Reduce the Effects

The best way to overcome this is to get moving. Make it a point to get up and walk around your house regularly. At the very least, take a real lunch break. If you can fit in a quick walk, that’s better. If not, at least you will get up from your desk.

At least once an hour, get up for a few minutes. Do some stretches or walk around your house.

Mental Health Is Also a Concern 

Although not a physical issue, remote work can also be bad for your mental health. This tends to come from working longer hours and having fewer home-work boundaries. That combines with reduced socialization.