Stress, poor posture lead to work-from-home woes
Hastily set up home offices have led to rise in headaches, shoulder and back pains, says chiropractor
Continuing work from home (WFH) arrangements because of the Covid-19 situation have created an environment in which people feel the need to engage more with work and always be "on", even outside office hours.
Long hours of work and improper postures from hastily set up home offices and workstations have led to an increase in common ailments such as headaches and neck, shoulder and back pains, according to Dr Shaan D. Rai, chairman for charity and outreach at the Alliance of Chiropractic (Singapore) and founder of Vitality Chiropractic Centres.
He estimates that there has been a more than 30 per cent increase in patients seeking treatment for WFH-related stressors since April. He advises patients to approach their chronic health issues proactively, and says that issues such as backaches and migraines require in-depth nerve analysis and can be effectively cured with chiropractic care.
Here, Dr Rai, who has treated patients from two weeks old to over 90 years old, including a number in wheelchair as well as professional athletes, talks about the increasing importance of chiropractic care and stress management in Singapore.
What health conditions are directly caused by WFH arrangements?
Problems like neck pain, headaches, migraines and back pain have increased since the start of the circuit breaker.
There has also been moe complaints about numbness, pain or tingling in the hand or fingers.
For sufferers of dizziness and vertigo, there has also been a rise in both the frequency and intensity of these attacks.
The work from home set-ups commonly lead to bad posture, due to low tables and uncomfortable chairs. This results in people craning their neck forwards, damaging the cervical nerves which supply the arm, hand and fingers.
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How and why do these conditions come about?
Typically, they are linked to pressure on the nerves, especially in the upper neck.
This is because of the changes in work routines, especially working from home, working longer hours and stress.
For most people, their work from home set-up may not be as ergonomic as their office set-up. First, it injures the neck, and eventually it worsens, causing headaches or dizziness.
A lot of people are also working longer hours, leading to more opportunities for injury. Stress has become a big exacerbating factor, especially during the circuit breaker.
When we are stressed, there is a systemic effect on the body, (and it becomes) more susceptible to developing problems.
How can people avoid body aches and pains when working for long periods?
Taking breaks to walk around and move are vital. Humans are designed for an array of movements, not for sitting.
Try to keep a good upright posture, with the shoulder rolled back and the head directly above the shoulder. Every inch your head moves forward from neutral can double the workload for the neck and its muscles.
Ensure your desk is high enough so you can maintain this posture, with the keyboard meeting your hands easily and your screen raised to eye level.
Are there practices people can adopt so as to avoid such aches and pains?
During the circuit breaker, we developed videos for the most important stretches that should be done before and after work to ensure good mobility for the muscles that are most affected by desk work.
This includes stretching the chest, quads and glutes/piriformis muscles. These are the ones that are chronically shortened by sitting and need to stretch out.
I would not advise excessive stretching of the neck or low back. Often, these muscles are tight to protect the body from poor posture, so if you stretch them you are weakening them when they are helping to protect you.
What is your advice to Singaporeans on seeking chiropractic treatment?
More than 80 per cent of our patients' health problems are related to their mental and emotional stress, either being the cause or an exacerbating factor.
So start with a check-up. It is always easier to prevent problems than to treat them. The chiropractor should have objective tests, such as nerve scans, to detect if there are things that can be improved, even before there are symptoms.