The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work and live. And while some restrictions have rolled back during the summer, fall could prove a return to previous phases. One of those is a businesses and companies keeping their employees at home.
Dr. Scott Rosner, a chiropractor at Weymouth Chiropractic and Wellness Center in Massachusetts, offers practical advice for workers affected by COVID-19 office restrictions. In this expert interview, we cover chiropractic care you can do at home, precautions to protect your neck and back when on Zoom or other videoconference calls, managing small children and the load they place on your spine, and more.
I know you’ve seen a lot in recent months, fire off some trends you’re spotting, and let’s unpack them.
Dr. Scott Rosner: The biggest thing we’re seeing is that transition to having this great ergonomic setup at their office to now being forced to work from home. Most of us were kind of unprepared for that. Our desks, if we have a desk at home, maybe it’s not set up ergonomic like our office. We’re working off a coffee table, or a dining room table. So, the number one thing that we’ve been talking to patients about is setting up your workstation properly so that you can prevent some common issues, making sure that seat height is appropriate to the table that you’re working on. Most dining room and kitchen tables are actually slightly lower than our standard desk, so having a bit of an elevated platform for your laptop can help to offset that and bring it up to the normal height we’re used to, and certainly elevating your chair or working out of an actual computer chair can help alleviate some of that discomfort.
One of the most interesting things that we’ve seen in the last few months is “Zoom Neck.” There’s this phenomenon when you’re on Zoom where you get pulled into the screen when you’re video conferencing. It’s hard for everyone to sit back in their chair and not get pulled forward into that Zoom call. You’ll find yourself a lot closer to the screen by the end of the call than you were at the beginning. We’ve been working with a lot of patients on exercises to keep those shoulders back and keep you sitting in an upright position to prevent some of those issues from arising.
That’s interesting. Now that you say that, I actually notice it.
Dr. Scott Rosner: It’s amazing. I know it because I have a Zoom call once a week and I watch everybody. Their heads and faces get bigger by the end of the call. While that’s good because you’re interested in the information, it’s also terrible for your posture.
Let’s look at morning routines. From a chiropractic standpoint, what’s a good routine to adopt to get your body ready for the day?
Dr. Scott Rosner: One of the easiest things to start doing is to use your commute time to formulate a stretch routine. Do things like leaning the head forward; putting their arm up in the door frame to stretch the pectoral muscles out; leaning the head forward and ear towards either side to stretch out the trap; and doing some shoulder retractions or shoulder pinches to set the shoulders into a proper position. Going through a morning routine can help to set the tone for the rest of the day. Using that commute time is valuable, so treat it like an athletic event. Get your water intake in right in the morning, then add the stretches.
How much water intake do you recommend, just for the sake of keeping our spine and muscles hydrated?
Dr. Scott Rosner: A good rule of thumb is if you take your body weight, cut it in half, that’s about how many ounces of water you should be doing a day. That varies based on activity levels, so the more active you are, the more you should add on top of that. At a minimum, people should be doing about half their body weight in ounces.
How frequently are you recommending movement breaks be taken?
Dr. Scott Rosner: Once every hour at a minimum would be the benchmark. I recommend if you’re at home, every 15 minutes, to get up from your desk and move around. It’s a lot less pressure when you’re at home. There’re no supervisors or bosses watching what you’re doing. So, you can get up and move around a little more. I recommend standing as much as possible while working. If you have a kitchen counter or a high top, put your computer up on that and work from there. If you’re on a conference call or on a Zoom call, do it stand. You’re going to be much better off in the long run than sitting at that desk for extended periods throughout the day.
Ergonomically, do you recommend sitting on an exercise ball or something keep their core engaged?
Dr. Scott Rosner: It depends. At home, the table height makes all the difference. If you’re on an exercise ball and you’re too low, that causes more rounding in the lower back. If you’re trying to use an exercise ball at your coffee table, you’re still going to strain your upper back. It’s more important to pair the exercise ball with the table height to make sure it can actually work for you. Most people don’t sit on exercise balls correctly, so I shy away from recommending them, and would rather a good ergonomic chair, and set up the chair appropriately for them.
Let’s talk laptop hunch. People are either sitting in a chair or sitting on their couch working. Everything about that posture is head, shoulders and neck pointing straight down.
Dr. Scott Rosner: Exactly. The worst culprits are the people that lay in bed on their laptop, so it’s just their neck that’s straining and putting down extreme pressure. I always recommend if you’re going to use the laptop on a couch or in bed, you have to be sitting up straight. You can get those back pillows with the arms on the sides of them. If you flip it upside down, it makes a really good laptop stand when you’re sitting in bed or on the couch. Then you can get a simple three-ring binder to prop [your laptop] on. This way, it’s at a bit of angle and you’re maintaining a little more ergonomic position with your wrist.
What tips do you have for parents working from home who also have to engage a lot with small children throughout the day?
Dr. Scott Rosner: ’m a parent with a small child, my son is 5 months old, and daycare has been closed so he’s been at home. I joke with my wife that somebody should write a book for stretches for parents with younger kids because you’re essentially weightlifting all the time with them, and the weight is always increasing. Treat everything like an athletic event. The best thing is to bend with the knees, not at the back. That’s a staple.
Sometimes with kids, we forget proper mechanics. So whether it’s leaning over the crib to take them out, or breaking them up from wrestling, you’ve got to remember in the moment to have proper ergonomics. Remember to tighten the core when you’re lifting them. Try to shift if you’re holding them on one side versus the other. We all have that dominant side we feel comfortable carrying with, and so we tend to carry our kids on the same side. So, being cognizant of that, switch sides to make sure you’re not putting too much stress on one side versus the other.
Let’s dive into COVID-19 climate-based use injuries. What are you seeing more commonly regarding back, neck, and spine complaints?
Dr. Scott Rosner: Most of them are postural. We have the classic Upper Cross Syndrome, which is just the head coming forward, the shoulders rounding forward from too much computer time. The one problem with everybody working at home all the time is you really aren’t seeing traditional 9-to-5 hours because there’s a lot of people that are working beyond those hours because they’re home. That commute time is shutoff time. So, we’re seeing a lot more technology-based issues tied to Upper Cross Syndrome. We’re seeing a lot of lower back issues, mostly from sitting on the couch. Everybody’s home more and getting sucked into Netflix for long periods of time. Sitting on a couch puts a lot of stress into that lower back.
We’re also seeing a bit of neck and jaw pain from wearing masks in public. We actually find in wearing the mask you’re not quite breathing the same way underneath. So, it’s actually putting a lot of stress on the what are called the “Accessory Breathing Muscles” and the jaw. I find myself doing this when I’m talking and working with patients — my mouth is open under the mask. It creates pressure in those accessory breathing muscles and the jaw. Interestingly enough, I’ve had a couple patients come in with newly developed jaw pain from wearing the mask.
I would have never associated that, but I know a lot of people have complained about the mask and discomfort while breathing through it.
Dr. Scott Rosner: It’s an interesting phenomenon. You breathe differently if you’re not used to breathing under a mask. I teach my patients a lot of breathing techniques as part of normal care. I’ve found out by talking to people that a lot of people are mouth breathing under the mask versus breathing in through the nose. That can put a lot of pressure onto the jaw. We’ve had an uptick in TMJ issues.
I’m also wondering if you think there’ll be more of an uptick in young people dealing with Tech Neck after the pandemic has passed.
Dr. Scott Rosner: Tech Neck is on the rise. So is Texting Thumb. I’ve seen a couple of patients for Texting Thumb from being on their phones too much. There are a couple of different things that go along with that, like the need todecrease screen time to prevent straining the eyes. As far as the posture goes, we’re seeing an uptick in younger patients showing these postural issues because there’s nothing else for them to do. Just having them get outside, even in the backyard, and off of technology for a couple of hours will help in the long run. You hit the nail on the head, there’s definitely an uptick in technology use amongst adolescents and teens right now. We’ve had a couple of patients come in with postural-related issues because of that.
In closing, what’s one more noteworthy thing you’ve seeing beyond the norm?
Dr. Scott Rosner: Now that things are opening up a little, we’ve had an uptick in home exercise-related issues. People, when they’re in a gym setting, are used to using the machines versus free weights. When you transition to working out at home and having to use the free weights, form is incredibly important. So, we’ve seen a good amount of exercise-related injuries or issues arise. Also, some patients are working out more because they’re home. So, instead of getting a half-hour or a 45-minute workout, they’re doing up to two hours a day because they have the time. That can lead to fatigue and injury, so we’re trying to work with them on creating a better program at home so that they don’t create these issues.
Updated: June 5, 2021