Covid-19: Laptops and hard chairs to blame for jump in work from home injuries

Working from home has become a literal pain in the neck for many New Zealanders.

Physiotherapists and chiropractors have seen a constant stream of new customers with neck and back complaints since the country’s first lockdown almost a year ago.

Temporary desks, hours spent working at laptops and hard chairs have been blamed for a host of issues including neck and lower back pain.

Chiropractor Sam Baktask from Revolution Chiropractic in Northcote had noticed a marked increase in the number of people who mentioned “work from home” when needing back and neck treatment.

“It has been significant and I have noticed it is mainly new clients with neck pain, lower back pain and headaches caused by tight traps,” Baktask said.

“If they come in early we can often improve strength with an adjustment but sometimes, if it has been an issue for months or more, we need to refer for massage because the muscles are so tight.”

Baktask said treatment was always followed up with workstation assessment and recommendation.

“The treatment is undone if that person goes straight back to a workstation causing bad posture.

“We give people information on where their legs, hips, arms, head, feet, and head should line up.”

Laptop use was the biggest issue with workers looking down at a screen and putting strain and pressure on their necks.

“We suggest immediately getting an external keyboard and having the laptop placed on something so it is at eye-level.”

“A good ergonomic chair with the correct lumbar support is also essential.”

Baktash had heard some companies had provided equipment such as chairs and computers to make their regular work from home teams safe.

Others, especially those who only worked from home during lockdown, were often working from kitchen tables, bedrooms and makeshift workstations that were not ergonomically correct.

“These are the people we have seen most often,” Baktash said.

Jodi Milne, owner of Jodi Milne Physiotherapy on the North Shore, had also seen an increase in workstation injuries in the past year.

“I have done a lot more educating, told people how to set up their workstation and treated them for injuries,” Milne said.

“I have spoken to some people who start the day with their laptop and morning coffee in bed so there are some not so ideal situations.”

Milne said it was not expensive to correctly set up a workstation with low-budget options such as office chairs from The Warehouse and Kmart.

“You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars, as long as a chair has lumbar support and is adjustable it is usually fine,” she said.

Kiwi-made ergonomic desks, including standing desks, were also available from companies like Work From Home Desks.

Milne said additional stress of lockdown – such as working from home with children – made back and neck issues more prevalent.

People carry stress in their shoulders so when that area is weakened there is a higher chance of injury she said.

Milne had provided workstation assessments and provided clients with stretches and equipment to use at home in level 3.

Meanwhile, Physiotherapy New Zealand and PodiatryNZ, are appealing to authorities to be able to operate in level 3.

Physiotherapists and podiatrists already maintain protocols to maximise patient and staff safety including ongoing risk assessment and infection prevention control said Physiotherapy New Zealand chief executive Sandra Kirby.

Kirby said Aucklanders’ health and wellbeing was being put at risk with the postponement of treatment in level 3.

“Recognising we’re likely to experience ongoing lockdowns the current restrictions on health services are too stringent,” she said.

“Businesses outside the health sector can see the public in-person in higher alert levels, physiotherapists and podiatrists are left with telehealth as the only option for treating people who require their expertise.”

The Ministry of Health called for submissions on its approach to health service delivery last November.

Kirby said four months on the ministry had not addressed the request for registered health professionals to provide safe in-person services at alert level 3.

“While guidelines for alert level 3 have been eased for some food sellers, indications from the Ministry of Health are there are no changes planned for health services,” said Kirby.

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