That Pain in Your Neck
Dave Howell Editorial

Dave How­ell
Busi­ness for Begin­ners

People who work from home are more likely to suf­fer from work-related injur­ies such as neck and back prob­lems, accord­ing to new research from Bupa.
One of the big prob­lems I have faced over the last 20 years, as I have built my writ­ing busi­ness, is how to stay fit and avoid injur­ies when spend­ing upwards of 10 hours a day at my desk.

The find­ings, released on Nation­al Work From Home Day, reveal that over half of home-work­ers (51%) have sus­tained injur­ies, aches and pains as a res­ult of their work­ing envir­on­ment, which is 10 per cent1 more likely than those work­ing in a ‘tra­di­tion­al’ work­place. As flex­ible work­ing can have health and well­being bene­fits, Bupa has cre­ated a check­list to sup­port employ­ers and their employ­ees wheth­er they are work­ing from their kit­chen table or sofa

The research high­lighted that not hav­ing the right work set-up at home could be the cause, one in four (25%) home-work­ers do not have a ded­ic­ated work­space at home and half (50%) of home-work­ers admit to hunch­ing over while work­ing. 40 per cent said they reg­u­larly work from their bed or sofa, all of these factors increase the risk of mus­cu­lo­skelet­al injury, with the most com­mon prob­lems exper­i­enced being back­ache (24%) and neck-ache (20%).

And it is not only phys­ic­al health that is at risk. Nearly half (47%) of work­ers say they work longer hours when at home com­pared to their primary place of work, and often longer than stated in their con­tract. Over a pro­longed peri­od this can res­ult in increased levels of fatigue and stress.

How­ever, the study found that work­ing from home does also come with a range of health bene­fits. The flex­ible nature of home work­ing means that three in five (58%) are able to build exer­cise into their day, and the same pro­por­tion say they eat more health­ily. Two thirds (66%) say they are able to take reg­u­lar breaks from their work area, which is good for both men­tal and phys­ic­al health.

Dami­an McCle­l­land, Clin­ic­al Dir­ect­or for Mus­cu­lo­skelet­al Ser­vices, Bupa UK said: “Work­ing from home is a flex­ible bene­fit which is grow­ing in pop­ular­ity, how­ever there are phys­ic­al risks involved if people do not take the same pre­cau­tions as they do in the work­place. Employ­ers ensure their employ­ees have an appro­pri­ate work­space at work, if someone doesn’t reg­u­larly work from home they may not have ergo­nom­ic fur­niture or the cor­rect tech­no­logy needed to avoid phys­ic­al health issues, such as neck and back pain.”

“Work­ing from home is a flex­ible bene­fit which is grow­ing in pop­ular­ity, how­ever there are phys­ic­al risks involved if people do not take the same pre­cau­tions as they do in the work­place.”
All of this could res­ult in time off work which Bupa have cre­ated a home-work­ing health check­list:
  • Work in a room with adequate light so you don’t have to strain your eyes.
  • Sit in a chair where your feet can reach the floor, or are sup­por­ted by a footrest.
  • Ensure your mon­it­or is at least an arm’s length away from you and the top of the mon­it­or is at eye level.
  • Try to use a hands-free phone line and avoid typing/writing with a phone between your ear and shoulder, as this can lead to neck prob­lems.
  • Try to break more reg­u­larly than you would in an office as your pos­ture is likely to be worse at home, ideally every 20 – 30 minutes.
  • Make time to stretch out to avoid stiff­ness, par­tic­u­larly if you spend a long peri­od of time in the same pos­i­tion.

I have writ­ten about ergo­nom­ics for sev­er­al years and prac­tice many of its basic prin­ciples. A dia­gnost­ic ques­tion to ask your­self is do you suf­fer from aching shoulders or neck muscles, tight as knots after a writ­ing ses­sion? If you do have aches or pains in your neck, back, legs or fore­arms, these are warn­ing signs that you def­in­itely need to make changes to your work­ing space. The pains may dis­ap­pear after a few hours but if they return, they could turn into longer term chron­ic prob­lems such as RSI (Repet­it­ive Strain Injury) or oth­er MSDs (Mus­cu­lo­skelet­al Dis­orders).

Simple changes to your work­ing space can often pro­duce dra­mat­ic improve­ments. For example, chan­ging the angle of your wrists when using the mouse reduces com­pres­sion and strain. Applied ergo­nom­ics can avoid or relieve this kind of dis­com­fort.

Your work­sta­tion

Recently I have inves­ted in a sit/stand desk. I chose the Ikea Bekant desk as it fit­ted in the space my old desk occu­pied and its was eco­nom­ic­al to buy. Hav­ing read a num­ber of con­flict­ing stor­ies about the actu­al bene­fits of a sit/stand desk, I decided the only way to know for sure was to test it myself.


The desk assembles very eas­ily indeed. As a vet­er­an Ikea build­er, the desk was fast and simple to put togeth­er. Once com­pleted, I set about think­ing about cable man­age­ment, as this is a con­stant prob­lem in my office. The desk comes with a ham­mock that fits under the desk to route cables away from your feet – avoid­ing any trip acci­dents.

Of course, the import­ant aspect of this desk is how the sit/stand mech­an­ism works. I can report that this is smooth when mov­ing up and down. Simply press­ing and hold­ing the con­trol but­tons activ­ates the motors that are built into the legs of the table. The first time you move the desk is some­what of a rev­el­a­tion, hav­ing not stood at a desk to do any work before.

My desk has two 27” inch iMacs on it that I used as dual mon­it­ors. The desk is sol­id enough to sup­port them without any issues. When seated at the desk with the lift­ing mech­an­ism closed the desk behaved like my old Ikea desk.

How­ever, I have noticed that when I raise the desk and type, some­times the vibra­tion can make my mon­it­ors wobble a little. This isn’t a deal break­er for me, and I think the move­ment is simply because I have two large com­puters on my desk. If you use a note­book PC or even a tab­let, as your primary com­puter, I don’t think you will see any move­ment at all.

Also, this desk is ideal for me as I am 5’ 11’’ tall. The desk’s max­im­um height is well think what I would call com­fort­able for me when I am stand­ing. How­ever, if you are over six-foot-tall, this desk might not go high enough for you to work com­fort­ably, which would defeat the point of hav­ing the desk. And at its max­im­um height of 125cm, it might be too unstable if you have large mon­it­ors on your desk as I do.

Hav­ing used the desk for over a year I have been stead­ily increas­ing the amount of time I spend stand­ing at the desk. I have though, found when I need to type for longer peri­ods, I am more com­fort­able seated. But when I am doing gen­er­al work at my work­sta­tion I stand.

The ques­tion of course is do I feel any fit­ter? I think so, as I believe my over­all fit­ness is much bet­ter than it was. Less back and neck pain for sure. I think the sit/stand debate cer­tainly goes on, but for me the move to this kind of work­ing pos­ture seems to be work­ing.