How To Avoid Pain And Discomfort When Working From Home

prevent pain and aching 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 took about 5 months.

5 months after I started freelancing and working from home I got wrist pain.

It started as discomfort and then developed into wrist pain. I used to work from my laptop sitting at the dining table.

And the interesting thing was I’m a Physiotherapist and Ergonomist. So, I should have known better, right?

Yep, I agree. 

But I kind of took it for granted.

I thought I would know when to stop and take a break. That I would know if any part of my body was aching. I would know how to sit with a good posture. How to stop discomfort working from home.

Don’t get me wrong. I knew all these things, But I didn’t pay too much attention to them, I was so busy doing the work that I overlooked my health. 

And I paid dearly for it. My wrist ached so badly that gripping, writing and even touching it made it tingle and painful. It ached from my wrist up to the underbelly of my elbow. It slowed down my flow. I dreaded sitting at my home workstation. 

Sadly, it was to do with how I set up my home workstation. I did it all wrong. I thought I would get round to setting it up properly.

Set up an injury-free home workstation before I got injured.

But I was wrong.

If I was to ever go back in time and do it differently. These are the 11 things I would consider to prevent discomfort working from home.

1. Create a workspace

I set up shop in the corner of my bedroom. All I did was grab our stowaway dining table, dragged it to the bedroom and voilà! my space.

I didn’t invest in an office chair or computer desk. No keyboard or mouse. Just a stowaway dining chair that was too high. I never checked what this space needed or what I needed to make it comfortable for me. 

You don’t have to have expensive furniture or furniture that matches your décor. Create a space that have the basic equipment to prevent injury and work comfortably. It would improve productivity and reduce your risk of pain and discomfort working from home.

2. Avoid Frequently Working from a Laptop

I know it’s a laptop, that’s what it was designed to be used on the lap. But using a laptop on your lap should be brief, infrequent or ‘on the go’. Otherwise, you work in an awkward position. You’ll have to bend your neck to see your screen which gives you neck pain. 

In contrast, you’re not ‘on the go’ at your home. Nor an infrequent user. You work at least 2 days a week, if you’re a hybrid worker and 5 days, if full-time. 

So, working with your neck bent for that length of time frequently, worsens your neck and leads to back and shoulder pain. It sure did give me neck and back pain. Because I was constantly bending my neck and leaning forward. That meant my neck had to carry a heavier head.

Although changing sitting positions is ideal when working, it’s important you place your laptop on a surface that keeps your head upright. Keeping it in a neutral position. 

I now work from a workstation with my laptop projected on a bigger screen, a separate keyboard and a mouse.

3. Edge is Important

Be it the edge of a desk or the edge of your laptop. If they are sharp and bulky, they would dig into your wrist and cause contact stress injury that can give you carpal tunnel syndrome. That was how I too developed a wrist injury.

Look at the edge of your desk. Is it sharp and angular? If so, are you having wrist pain? If you are, then you need to replace or modify your desk. You need a computer desk with rounded edges.

4. Good Posture Is Key

Every time I worked from my dining table, I used my laptop. I didn’t have a separate keyboard or mouse. So that meant I had to bend my neck to see the screen. And that gave me headache, eyestrain and neck pain.

Also, I had an office chair that wasn’t comfortable. The lumbar support on that chair was slightly higher so it didn’t rest flush on my lower back. That meant, sitting on the edge of the chair with my thighs not adequately supported. This, in turn, put excessive strain in my back and hips. And yes, I developed back pain.

It’s embarrassing to say. But I didn’t take my advice:

You need to have a good working posture to work injury-free and prevent discomfort when working from home.

A good sitting posture puts the least strain on your body. Leaving you relaxed and injury-free.

5. Sit Near A Good Source Of Light

I was aware of that before I set up my space. I sat near the window, the ideal position.

That was great during the daytime. Natural light streamed in and illuminated my work. But come night-time, if I was still working (which many times I was), I couldn’t see my work. There was only one source of artificial lighting in my bedroom. And it was quite a distance away from my desk that it cast shadows. Guess what happened? 

Eyestrain and headache.

Now I have a goose-neck task lamp that illuminates my work. 

My work area is brightly lit, and my eyes don’t ache anymore.

6. Chairs Make Or Break Your Back

Yep, that’s right. 

I got an ‘office ergonomic chair’. Or so I thought.

I could at that time only afford a cheap one. It was cheap and inadequate.

I knew I needed an adjustable chair, so I got one. But it could only adjust two ways: up and down (seat height). And tilt and lock the backrest into an upright or reclined position. 

That was a start. But I needed more adjusters to make my chair comfortable ‘for me’.

  • The lumbar support of this chair was too high for me, so my lower back was unsupported. 
  • The armrest was too high for me and they were fixed. So, my shoulders were raised when I rested on them. And they restricted how close I could get to the desk.

You need an ergonomic office chair with a few more adjusters. 

The more adjusters on your chair, the better your chances of sitting in a chair made for you and preventing discomfort working from home.

7. The Kids Would Disturb (don’t get flustered)

My lil’one always did. He wanted to know what I was doing. When I was going to come out and play. Why he couldn’t sit on my lap? He disturbed me and he loved it. Was it frustrating at times? Yes, when I didn’t want to be interrupted.

But other times, I didn’t mind being interrupted. Love him to bits. But I got frustrated sometimes because I wasn’t thinking like someone working from home. I was thinking as if I was in an office (corporate office) where kids weren’t allowed. 

How silly.

Now they (yep, they’ve multiplied). They have a little corner in my home office where they can play. And if they crawl or rush in, I either ask them to be patient or take a break with them (they love typing on my keyboard).

8. It Doesn’t Have To Be Perfect 

Yes! You know what I mean.

You want to have everything set up properly before you begin. But you don’t here to have that ‘state of the art’ chair or desk. I started with a laptop and a cheap uncomfortable office chair. 

Modification is key. Start with what you have and improve it. For example, if you have only a laptop, get a separate keyboard and mouse. If you have a dodgy uncomfortable chair, use a cushion to support your back. But, your best bet is to get the best ergonomic office chair you can afford.

9. Being Productive Doesn’t Mean Being Stuck at Your Desk 

You know when you feel sluggish. Reading a line takes forever. Your mind keeps wandering. 

Well, it’s time to get up and do something else. 

If you were in the office, you might have gone to speak to a colleague or have a tea break. But being at home alone doesn’t mean you don’t have options too. 

You need to step away from your desk and do something else. This is a good thing because it reduces periods of prolonged sitting. Getting up frequently reduces back pain and other health problems caused by prolonged sitting. 

Research also shows that breaking up prolonged sitting improves cognitive function.  So you don’t need to be chained to your desk.  Change your positions periodically, like, lying down, walking the dog, pacing around the room and standing. It recharges you and boosts productivity.

10.  Make Time To Unplug

I was guilty of this. Sitting at my desk for hours especially, if I was working on a client’s report. I would always say that I’ll take a day off when I finished. But that rarely happened. Either another job came in or I worked on my business.

I had to learn to unplug. Switch off. Hang out with the kids. And when I finally got back to work, I was fired up. I work faster and sharper.

11.  Schedule Time In Your Diary For Non-Business Activities

My diary was filled with work-related to-do list. but I never scheduled time in the day for other events. Like booking a doctor’s appointment, or get to the shops or chill out with my child when he got back from nursery. Or just schedule time to be away from my desk. 

Because of that, I struggled to finish my to-do list. I felt I had failed to finish the work for the day. I put too much work-related stuff on my plate. So, I did set myself up to fail, really.

Now my diary has everything I need to do. And I try not to include too many work-related tasks. Just in case my kids thought otherwise, or an emergency came up. It just made me less anxious, less irritable and all-round healthier.

Do not ignore your health for the hustle’. 

Your Health Is As Important As Your Work

You take care of your health and it will take care of you.

And it all starts with setting up your home workstation to suit you, your workspace and your environment.

Don’t be like me who took it for granted. 

Luckily, my wrist pain has resolved now. I had to treat myself (perks of being a physiotherapist). But it could have been easily prevented in the first place. And I could have prevented pain and discomfort working from home.

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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