"Body-Proofing" Your WFH Life: Physical Therapist Jes Hill Has All The Answers
5 min read
By Dana Wood | July 14, 2020
For anyone hunched over paperwork at the kitchen island or welded to the couch with a laptop from 9 to 5, it's time to stop and think about the toll that might be taking on your body. Since so many of us were thrust into a work from home (WFH) lifestyle this year without a chance to prepare for it, it only makes sense that we might not have the ideal set-up. But now that it's looking like we might be housebound for quite a while yet, we tapped physical therapist and movement expert Jes Hill for her best tips for maximizing home-based wellness while minimizing the daily wear and tear of sitting and staring at screens for hours on end.
Having shifted her PT and Movement Training to telehealth due to the pandemic, Hill has been counseling her clients through Zoom sessions. And that's been a real eye-opener, especially with those who have been working from home. "I think folks just don't give a whole lot of thought to their home workstations, so I've had to get them organized," Hill says. "They were working at kitchen tables, or lounged-out on the couch, and a lot of them were complaining about back and neck pain that they didn't previously have."
Because we don't want that to happen to you, with Hill's help we've compiled a list of serious workarounds.
Jes Hill's Five Crucial WFH Need-To-Knows
1. Couch + Computer = No Bueno
It's one thing to surf for an hour or two at night after a long day at the office. It's another thing entirely to try to accomplish your entire work-day from your couch. "We tend to put ourselves into inefficient positions for long periods of time that produce an accumulation of unnecessary strain on the body," Hill notes. "Postures are shapes, and humans are supposed to make all the shapes. So I don't like to think of postures last good or bad. I like to think of postures in terms of better and more efficient given the task. The posture that you're in way too often, that's the one that can become problematic. Because what happens is that parts start getting overstressed and strained, and they become inflamed, irritated and painful.
If you don't have an actual home office, mix it up, by moving from the couch to the dining room table to a patio bench. The idea is to not stay stuck in any one particular non-desk spot. But if you do have a desk...
2. Investing In A Supportive Chair Is Super-Smart
"If you have the option of getting yourself a proper chair like you'd have at the office, that's a really good thing," says Hill. "And what I mean by 'proper' is something that's adjustable in terms of height, backrest, seat pan and arm rests. Lumbar support is desirable, and the seat should have appropriate cushioning. Positionally, you're going to want your ears, your shoulders and your hips to all be in a straight line. Your upper arms should hang by your sides. And you'll want your feet flat on the floor, and usually that will happen with your hips and the knees at around 90 degrees."
Curious what a "bad" WFH chair might look like? Hill has thoughts on those too. "A lot of time at home, people will have a really hard chair, like a kitchen chair, or something that angles up into the backs of their knees. Or one that's too high or too low, or their feet are dangling because they're at a kitchen counter on a stool," she says. "That can all place a tremendous amount of stress on the body over time."
3. Little Touches Like Proper "Mouse-Placement" Can Pay Big Dividends
Since even hardcore laptop addicts often like to use an external mouse, Hill wants us to position them ergonomically. "If you're sitting up tall at your desk right now, and you have your upper arms hanging beside your body with elbows at 90 degrees, look at where your hands begin to rest. If you were to rotate your hands out between 15 to 20 degrees, you'd want your mouse in the range of '12 o'clock and 2 o'clock' if you're a righty, and '12 o'clock and 10 o'clock' if you're a lefty," she explains. "That way you're not reaching far with your arm, and you're not rotating your shoulders hard to get into position. You want to be relaxed."
4. Staring Straight Ahead At Screens All Day Messes With Our Eyes
Maybe you already knew this on some level, but chances are you didn't know exactly why it's so harmful. Hill does, and she's more than happy to share. "Our eyes have muscles that allow for focus and movement. The eyes are hardwired to muscles of our necks, so when you're staring at your screen, and your eyes are going back and forth all day long, those little muscles in your eyes and neck are constantly being used." Enter the tension headache - or worse, an actual decline in vision. To sidestep those issues, says Hill, "make sure you're giving your eyes and vestibular system some variety during the day, rather than just staring straight ahead at your screen. Getting up and moving around, moving your head, watching cars or kids running around. Mix it up. It's really, really important."
Another Hill tip: Practice what she calls "convergence and divergence," by focusing on an object that's close, followed by one that's far away, and then back to the original close object again. It only takes a few seconds and can really keep your vision in good shape.
5. A WFH Lifestyle Works A Whole Lot Better If You Get Up & Move
In a word, sitting sucks. "Every 40 to 60 minutes, get up and move," Hill urges. "Take a short walk, and actually look around your neighborhood - again, that helps get your eyes moving in variable ways. Or rock out to some Miley Cyrus song in your kitchen and dance with yourself. Just move more, in as many different ways as possible. Things like that really break up your day?"