Why is there an increase in work-from-home injuries?
Though many Americans are working from home, there has been a seemingly counterintuitive increase in work-related injuries. The reason may lie in your commute — or lack thereof.
With recent events, working from home has become a new normal for many Americans. With this change, varying data has come to light amongst this massive lifestyle change. One would posit that working from home should result in no work-related injuries, right? Recent studies have hypothesized no, not really. Instead, we’ve seen a rise of injured in people working from home — but what is the culprit? What mistakes are we making?
Part of it may lead back to where we choose to sit. A recent survey taken by NuLab amongst 856 participants working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic found that about 40% are not performing their work duties from a desk, with almost 30% of them reporting working from their bedroom.
There is also a common thread between the common injuries being reported to me in the clinic from the working-from-home population, one of which being back and neck pain with onsets that become worse at the end of the day. Having the ideal ergonomic set up in your workspace at a desk is still only a part of the equation. (For more, check out our article on how to achieve proper workspace ergonomics.)
With fewer employees coming into the office and total step counts on your daily travels decreasing as you only move from one room of your home to another, the answer may be as simple as it seems: the culprit may be your commute — or lack thereof.
But what does your commute have to do with this? More than you may think. With decreased commute times comes decreased activity for all those working from home. Current medical research supports that decreased activity results in deconditioning of our bodies, which results in strength and endurance losses. Prolonged immobility within the first week is proven to result in a significant decrease in muscle mass, bone density and higher rates of reported pain.
Yet many situations arise with low levels of reported pain, not enough for someone to feel a need to for medical attention. Often, individuals avoid addressing the issue until the pain interferes severely with their daily functioning. For example, a person new to working from home may not have the appropriate desk chair and starts to feel pain in their lower back but ignores it while the pain is manageable or not always noticeable. Once the situation lasts for long enough, the pain increases and the person has no other choice but to seek medical attention, even if they manage to get a better chair.
Successfully managing pain early is proven to be a key component in recovery and decreased risks of developing chronic conditions associated with it. Being active, getting up and moving can do the body a world of good. Resistance exercise especially is proven to lead to greater muscle mass increases and increased quality of life. Standing up from your home set up and doing hourly walks are all examples of ways to better incorporate more movement into your daily life until normalcy is attained in your working environment.
And what does physical therapy have to do with all of this? Finding the root of the problem quickly and effectively can significantly decrease your risk of further issues. Don’t wait until it’s too late.
Kiera Klaum, DPT, is based out of the Darien office. She focuses on orthopedic physical therapy, has experience with post-operative and post-COVID care and has worked with people of all ages and backgrounds, including athletes.
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