“Working from home left me with musculoskeletal pain”17 September 2020
At Versus Arthritis we support and encourage flexible working as it’s a great way of making the workplace more inclusive for people with disabilities and health conditions.
But for many workplaces the coronavirus pandemic forced a rushed transition to working from home full-time and lots of people are finding themselves working longer hours in unsuitable conditions.
Mental health nurse, Caroline from Lincolnshire has found that since lockdown, her joints have become incredibly stiff and painful.
She has a pre-existing condition in her back which caused nerve damage and numbness, but the pain has deteriorated since she’s been working from home, as she hasn’t been able to keep as active.
Caroline says the pain is so bad it feels like: “the equivalent to what I imagine it feels like to be hit by a truck.”
Our nationwide study has found that four in five (81%) desk workers who switched to working from home in lockdown have since had back, neck or shoulder pain, with a quarter (23%) affected often or all the time.1
Here, Caroline shares her working from home experience and talks about how she’s tried to manage the pain.
When did you start to notice the pain? Was it evident before you started working from home?
I have a pre-existing condition which came from a sporting injury in my lower back. I had an operation to remove a disc several years ago which left me with a degree of nerve pain and numbness.
Nevertheless, I’ve continued to lead an active lifestyle – I’m usually out and about with work doing health assessments and I regularly go to aqua aerobics classes at the gym.
However, around April, when it became apparent that working from home would become the new norm, I found my joints were becoming extremely stiff and painful. I used to have an ergonomic chair at work, but at home I didn’t have a great set up – so I suspect this was a contributing factor.
Eventually I ended up purchasing a good quality chair myself, because I knew how much of an impact working at a desk all day was having on my body.
How has the pain affected your life?
It’s now so bad that I cannot move my left shoulder or turn my head and it causes intense headaches. I’m lucky if I get two-three hours a night of sleep; the pain is incredibly disruptive.
It’s really made me appreciate all the little things that people take for granted as I can no longer do these things!
Even the pleasure of walking my dogs has been snatched away. I can no longer walk them both at once because if they pull on the lead, it’s simply too sore. I am past exhausted with it all!
With such a demanding job, the lack of sleep is really tough as well. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle.
The pain is now radiating down both my legs. I’m concerned it will get worse and start to go upwards as well into my neck and shoulders.
It feels like a constant pulsing of pain which nothing really seems to relieve at the moment, and I’m someone with a fairly high pain threshold.
What helps you manage your pain?
Heat and ice sometimes help, as well as warm scented baths. I also have quite an expensive bed to try and manage the back pain – but even though I have a great mattress I still struggle to sleep.
I guess one good thing about working from home is that I can take 30 minutes to lie down and stretch out when I need to, which I would not otherwise be able to do.
I also find exercises from my physio been useful. I try to do home DVDs or videos and stretch.
Read more about ways to manage your pain.
Has your employer put any provisions in place for working from home?
Thankfully, my bosses have been understanding, but ultimately, we still have a service to run. I bought a chair like the one I have in work, which is designed to support in all the right places and is set up for me which is important since I now spend so much time just sitting down.
I think it’s particularly important that employers are made aware of such issues, so they can work with their employees to come up with some sort of solution in these still uncertain times.
Nevertheless, at the moment, it’s hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
- Find out what types of exercise can help ease joint pain and stiffness.
- Read more about how to keep yourself healthy when working from home.
About our study
Caroline’s story is indicative of a large number of desk workers who are suffering from back, neck or shoulder pain, since working from home.
Our poll found that nine in ten (89%) of those in pain haven’t told their employers about their struggles despite nearly half (46%) saying they take more painkillers than they would like, to get by. One in three (35%) office workers received no kit, support, or advice from their employer on home working.
Lower back pain, like Caroline’s, is the most common complaint, with half of all respondents reporting this (50%), followed by neck pain (36%) and shoulder pain (28%).
As musculoskeletal (joint, bone or muscle) conditions are already the second most common reason for missing work, we are calling on businesses and the government to take urgent action to improve set ups and employee support.
Influencing the future of musculoskeletal support at work
In response to the survey findings, we’re calling on employees, employers and government to work together to increase awareness and improve support in the workplace.
We want employees to understand their rights around support at work, and to have a conversation with their employer about their health needs.
We want to enable employers to help facilitate safe flexible working by:
- Regularly checking in with employees about their pain and musculoskeletal health
- Funding equipment for employees, and making ‘reasonable adjustments’ for people with disabilities or long-term health conditions that affect their ability to work
- Creating an environment that promotes physical activity, for example encouraging regular breaks, promoting standing or walking meetings
- Enabling people to work flexibly where possible
- Better informing employees of their employment rights and the support they can ask for
We want the government to make it easier for businesses and employees to look after musculoskeletal health, by:
- Increasing promotion of the Access to Work scheme so that more people with disabilities or long-term health conditions and their employers know about the support it provides
- To meet the commitment to new legislation, which would make flexible working the default unless employers have good reason not to enable this
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