Jesse Jones

Physical therapists say work-from-home injuries are up. Here’s how to deal with them.

North Bend, WA — Commuting to work is one kind of pain. Working from home can lead to another.

For North Bend’s Matt Childs, it’s his back.

“I have two small kiddos and I was unable to really play and wrestle around on the floor like I wanted to,” says Matt. “I could do it. I would just hurt a lot more.”

Viewers sent us their pandemic home work areas, where we saw many of them crammed into corners and spare bedrooms.

Now their bodies - and doctors - are starting to see the uncomfortable results.

“I’m seeing a lot of injuries just from people being in - too static or being in one position for a long period of time,” says physical therapist Amanda Scharen.

Scharen is the director of Therapeutic Associates in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood. Their network of clinics across the area have seen work-from-home injuries go up as much as 200 percent in some categories.

“A lot of neck and back pain and associated things such as pinched nerves or pain running down the arm or running down the leg. I’m also seeing a lot of shoulder injuries,” says Amanda.

Abigail Parker is one of them, feeling the pain from hours sitting at her home office.

“You find yourself kind of leaning over if you’re on a laptop, and that’s what I’m doing most of the time,” says Parker.

If you’re injured on the job - even from a desk job at home - Vickie Kennedy, Assistant Director of Insurance Services with Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries, says your treatment could be covered through worker’s compensation.

Your doctor can help you with that.

“I think all of us have gone to the doctor and been asked, well did you get hurt at work? And that’s for them to help trigger helping that worker file a claim,” says Kennedy.

Labor and Industries also has a free guide to help prevent work station injuries here.

Kicking the pain for good can be more complicated than just physical therapy.

Back to Matt Childs in North Bend - why does he have three home-office set-ups?

His quest for relief involved ordering a lot of experimentation, and a lot of ordering office furniture online.

“So I kept trying to try different things. And I finally found one that worked,” says Childs.

He had the help of Brad Defenbaugh at IRG Physical and Hand Therapy, who does house calls for ergonomic evaluations.

“Everything is modifiable,” says Defenbaugh. “It’s just how much do you want to spend on it? And how much room do you have?”

This is what they came up with: an adjustable standing desk that goes up and down with a little pressure, an adjustable laptop stand with two monitors - also on adjustable stands - and a separated keyboard and mouse.

Defenbaugh is seeing a lot of Matts right now because of the pandemic. But not everyone can shell out for the Cadillac setup. And you don’t have to.

“Most people’s situation looks like this - they have a laptop, that the biggest problem is you can’t separate the monitor and you’re just crammed in here looking down at the screen. This is $15 dollars that you can put on a stand like this. Make sure that the screen is at eye level,” says Defenbaugh.

His recommendations:

  • Laptop stand - adjustable so that you are looking straight ahead, not up or down. A stack of books works too.
  • Wireless keyboard and mouse - allowing your arms to sit at a relaxed, 90-degree angle to type.
  • Adjustable chairs - you don’t need to break the bank. But if you buy something, make sure it can go up or down to adjust to whatever desk height you have.
  • Adjustable computer monitors - if you’re using a monitor and can’t move the desk, make sure you can move the screen up or down so you aren’t hunched over craning your neck up.

The worst thing you can do, Defenbaugh says, is work from a bed or a couch. Just about any table is an upgrade from there.

And for those whose only commute is to the kitchen table for the foreseeable future, physical therapist Amanda Scharen says there’s an even cheaper solution: a timer.

“So if you can invest that five minutes in yourself every half hour or so just to get up and move around,” says Scharen. “Do some stretches and move your body - it’s really going to pay off and help you make it through the pandemic without so many aches and pains.”

Just like you may be able to get your treatment covered by L&I, the state also has resources to help you make your work station safe - both at the office and at home. Find more here.

Here, you can find a guide to stretching and mobility while working from home.

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