How I Easily Developed Wrist Pain Working From Home Even as a Physiotherapist

how a physiotherapist developed wrist pain working from home
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Hi! I'm Ugo Akpala-alimi MSc.

Ugo is a Work Health and Ergonomics Consultant for Solopreneurs.

She is a UK Chartered Physiotherapist with a Masters in Ergonomics. With a whopping 20 years of experience across various healthcare sectors including blue-chip companies.

From treating numerous work-related injuries to performing countless ergonomic assessments, she’s an expert on the havoc injuries wreak on health and business.

Now, she’s on a mission to help solopreneurs overcome work-related aches and pains. So they can work and build their businesses pain-free.

It was 2011, and I had been a physiotherapist for 7 years.

I had only finished my masters in Ergonomics. Before that, I had a taste of assessing workers in an oil company.

I loved it.

So, I decided to start a freelance business offering Ergonomic Assessments to companies.

Another push to start a freelance business was I had a toddler at home. I was desperate to work from home and be at home with him. Just watching him grow and do mama stuff. Laced with excitement and ambition, I called up the contacts I knew and a few jobs came in.

Yes, I was ready to go.

So, I bought myself a hybrid laptop, you know those that could be turned into a tablet (back in the day). I also bought an ‘ergonomic’ office chair.

I placed my laptop on my dining table and that’s where I set up shop.

My own home office.

When I wasn’t out in client’s offices assessing their workers or work site, I was working from home. I was analysing and writing up my report to send out to them. I was sitting and typing away at my small workstation.

Fast forward 5 months later, I was in trouble.

I started having aches and pains. Neck and back pain if I sat for extended periods. I could put up with the neck and back pain. But the worst of all was wrist pain. Immediately, I sat at my desk, I felt a throbbing pain with tingling sensation radiating from my right elbow to my wrist. And sometimes, it felt like my index and middle fingers were on fire.

I had developed carpal tunnel syndrome.

Silly me!

I was a Physiotherapist!

The irony was I was consulting with companies and showing their employees how to work at their workstation comfortably and prevent injury. And here I was, with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, struggling to work at my workstation.

Plain and simple, I took it for granted that I would somehow be immune to injury.

Duuh!

No one is ever immune to work-related injuries. Only the ones that consciously take care to apply ergonomics when working from home.

Looking back, if I were to start all over again to work from home. These are the working from home mistakes I would never do and what I would have done differently:

Mistake #1. Never Use a Dining Table as Your Computer Desk

We lived in a city apartment and it was quite small.

I had a tiny stowaway dining table that I used it as my computer desk. The problem was it was too high.

Dining tables are usually too high to be used as a computer desk.

They are usually higher than your elbows unless you’re very tall in statue. So when you work from them, you would either raise your shoulders or fan out your elbows. Contrary, to the rules of ergonomic working that stipulates your shoulders should be relaxed and your elbows placed by your side.

My first mistake, and it made me press heavily on my wrist when I was typing. Giving me wrist pain. But I also developed neck pain.

The best option is to get a computer desk that is designed to be used at elbow height. The industrial standard height for a computer desk is between 72 – 76cm (28 – 30 inches). It would fit you if you are below and about 6 feet tall.

Mistake #2. Never Use a Desk with Sharp Edges when Working from Home

Not only was my dining table too high, its edges was angular and sharp.

Every time I typed, my wrist dug into the table. This posture pinched the nerve and blood vessels situated in my wrist. Over time, the pinched nerves made my right hand tingle, cold and painful.

That’s how I developed what is known as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Mistake #3. Never Use an Office Chair with Inadequate Adjusters when Working from Home

So, I bought an ‘ergonomic’ office chair, like I said earlier.

But guess what?

It only had 2 adjusters, one to raise/lower the chair, the other to recline/sit upright. I couldn’t adjust the lumbar support or the armrests.

So, the lumbar support was too high to support my lumbar. And the armrests could never be tucked under and was higher than my desk. So my arms were outstretched to reach the desk. I could never rest comfortably on the backrest too.

Two wrong postures that gave me wrist and back pain.

Mistake #4. Never Work too Long from a Laptop Without Accessorising

Yep! Laptops are great when you are mobile.

You can whip it out and use it anytime anywhere. But they aren’t designed to be used long-term as a substitute for a desktop computer. Desktop computers allow you work with a separate keyboard and mouse.

Keeping your wrist in a good neutral posture.

Because of the way a laptop has been designed, you would have to bend your neck to work from it. Constantly doing that for many hours a day, would stress your spine excessively. Giving you neck back and even shoulder injuries.

And that’s what happened to me.

I worked directly from the laptop all the time and didn’t accessorise. I didn’t get a separate keyboard and mouse. So, I developed back and neck pain. But also had wrist pain because my wrist was not in a good neutral position.

Mistake #5. Never Work Relentlessly

I was so focussed on finishing my work that I didn’t take breaks.

I even allowed my clients pressure me to submitting their work earlier than agreed. Didn’t know how to say ‘No!’ or pace myself. Was new to this consulting gig and didn’t want to lose any clients.

So, I didn’t take breaks, got stressed and developed back pain.

What I do now?

I incorporate breaks into my day. School runs, walk to the toilet, walk down the garden, pace my hallway, run up the stairs and take a brisk walk down the block.

I give myself time to finish my project. I never reply any emails in the evening after work. When I shut down for the day, I’m done. Family or me time!

Mistake #6. Avoid Sitting Directly Facing the Window when Working from Home

I knew I had to work near lighting, natural lighting at best.

So, I did.

My apartment had a top to bottom glass panel. It was great letting light in. But not great when the light reflected on my computer.

Sadly, I placed my workstation facing the window. Because of the way the sun moved throughout the day, glare was constant.  

Glare which causes headaches and eyestrain, can come directly or indirectly from natural or artificial lighting. Knowing how to position your workstation about your light source would help to reduce glare.

The trick is to sit adjacent to the window and use curtains and blinds to shield from glare.

Mistake #7. Never Mismanage Your Time

Have you heard of Project Creep?

That’s when you allow your client talk you into doing more than was agreed upon. It’s like when your boss repeatedly make small requests. Before you know it, you have done twice what was initially agreed upon.

It happened to me a couple of times.

In fact, I had a case where my client called my on a Sunday, my day off, and was on the call for over 7 hours with requesting for more after I had submitted the work.

It affected my time, working in my business and family time. Because I never finished when I said I would. My insufferable kids, bless their hearts, felt it too. With them asking, ‘Mummy, are you done yet?’.

‘In a minute I always said.’ (not really!)

I have learned the hard way. I’m firm with my answers. And if my client wants more than agreed, I would write up another contract stipulating the added price and time to finish the project.

I only reply to emails or calls during work time.

Mistake #8. Never Think Typing is the Only Way to Input Data

I typed a lot when I worked from home.

Constantly, typing out my assessments, reports, proposals, marketing, during calls, blog, social media and the list goes on. I was always typing.

My fingers were overworked and my wrist pinched from resting heavily on the table. I hardly took breaks.

This worsened my wrist pain.

But now, I can dictate using the in-built app. I write on paper, take breaks, use shortcuts too. I do more than just typing. That gives my wrist and fingers a break.

Mistake #9. Never Work Without Stretching Out in Between

It’s so easy to keep working without even looking at the time.

But the longer you work at your desk, the more slump and tired your body becomes. You might begin to slouch, fidget, ache and feel pain. To combat this, stretching out intermittently is the key.

The rule is to get up and stretch every 45 minutes.

What happened to my Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Thankfully, I was able to resolve my wrist injury.

The perks of being a Physiotherapist.

But I’ve learned my lesson.

I adjusted my workstation.

Bought proper ergonomic office chair and desk.

Use a desktop monitor.

Listen to my body.

Stretch and exercises.

Take breaks.

And that me. My painful confession of working from home and the ergonomic mistakes I made that gave me carpal tunnel syndrome.

So, here’s my question to you:

What mistakes are you making when working from home that is giving you that tingling throbbing pain wrist pain?

Imagine if you didn’t have wrist pain, neck pain or even back pain working at your desk? If you knew how to resolve them and prevent your injury from returning?

I’ve put together a pain-relieving exercise programme, the same one I used to resolve my carpal tunnel syndrome.

It’s a 8-week exercise programme designed in an award-winning app that allows you follow the exercises in a video format. You would also get a free 60 days chat access to me to help you monitor your progress.

Ready to resolve your pain?

Book a 60 minutes Call With Me Now

Written by Ugo Akpala-alimi Msc.

Written by Ugo Akpala-alimi Msc.

Ugo is a Work Health and Ergonomics Consultant for Solopreneurs. She is a UK Chartered Physiotherapist with a Masters in Ergonomics. She draws from 20 years of diverse experience across the NHS, private healthcare, and occupational health sectors. Having treated thousands of work-related injuries and conducted hundreds of ergonomic assessments, she possesses a deep understanding of the detrimental effects of work-related injuries on workers’ health. After being a freelancer herself, she is now on a mission to help solopreneurs resolve work-related pain so they can work pain-free, enabling them to thrive and build their businesses.

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