Prevent Repetitive Strain Injuries While Working From Home
Although the need to work hasn’t changed due to COVID-19, for many, the location where work is completed has.
While many states are easing restrictions and businesses are welcoming their employees back into offices, there are still more that are remaining in their homes for work. Working from home is a dream come true for people that dread the daily commute to and from the office. However, working from home might create a new set of problems if your home office is not “set up” correctly. The potential for workplace injuries still exists – and might even increase because you’re not working in your usual location.
For National Safety Month, it is important to understand how your work-from-home environment impacts your overall health. It’s also a good idea to learn more about repetitive strain injuries and how to best treat them.
How Working From Home Can Impact Overall Health
Many office environments have an ergonomic design.
This keeps employees safe, healthy, and able to complete their work as specified. Though there was some time to prepare for the transition to working from home, not every employee is able to work from an environment at home that is comparable to the one that they are used to in their office. Though convenient, this can lead to some issues – and may even result in repetitive strain injuries that otherwise would have been avoided.
What is a Repetitive Strain Injury?
Put simply, a repetitive strain injury is an injury that occurs after muscles, tendons, and nerves are overused improperly as time passes. This improper usage generally occurs from poor posture and poor workstation setup
Common repetitive strain injuries include the following.
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Tennis elbow
The more you use a specific area of the body, the more likely an injury occurring becomes. For many, sudden onset of working from home requires sitting in a chair at a standard desk most likely without ergonomic tools provided to you and maybe even worse, sitting on your couch throughout your workday. During this time, you may be incorrectly using your wrist and hands to type, and you may be looking down at your computer/laptop with a lack of proper arm support. The hands, arms, shoulders, and back are the areas of most concern. Repetitive strain injuries often begin as temporary issues. If left untreated, they can worsen, and even become chronic.
What are the Symptoms of Repetitive Strain Injury?
Although the symptoms will depend on your specific injury, there are similar symptoms across the board. The list is extensive, but some of the most common symptoms are:
- Pain (can be mild, moderate or severe)
- Numbness and/or tingling
- Temperature sensitivity
You can (in most cases) alleviate these by using simple remedies like over the counter pain medication, or the RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) method. However, if they go away and then return, there is usually an underlying issue that needs to be addressed by a medical professional.
Properly diagnosing a repetitive strain injury is important for two reasons.
- This will prevent the injury from worsening over time, and the pain from spreading to other areas of the body.
- A correct diagnosis will help determine the proper course of action for treatment, which will help to improve overall health and keep you more comfortable.
Since many of these injuries are felt long before they cause irreparable damage, most people won’t need to resort to extreme measures like surgery (which is common for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome) in order to correct them. The method for treatment will depend on a few different factors, including the nature of the injury, the severity of it, and the patient’s needs.
Treatment for Repetitive Strain Injury
Though there are many recommendations when setting up the home office in order to help prevent injuries and make the environment more ergonomic, they cannot always be avoided.
After diagnosing an injury that occurred because of repetitive motion, treatment becomes necessary.
Remember: implement all treatment options on an as-needed basis.
Many health care professionals and patients opt to try the least invasive methods first. This is done before suggesting the ones that disrupt life and routine immensely.
Medication: As discussed above, there are many different types of medications that are useful for treating repetitive strain injuries. The goal is not only to manage pain but also to help decrease other symptoms. These symptoms include swelling, soreness, stiffness, and overall discomfort. This is a short term solution, not one recommended to “fix” the problem for good. Examples of medication that can make a temporary difference include anti-inflammatory pills or tablets, pain-receptor blockers, or even other non-steroidal options. Medication should only be used on an as-needed basis and should not be relied upon for chronic pain.
First Aid: Choose options that are designed to help immediately. These include:
- Heating packs
- Ice packs
The above are all options for treatment that health care workers and even physical therapists will recommend. Pain needs management, but it also needs prevention from worsening or lasting. These are all great choices to accomplish this. Find these items at grocery or big-box stores. You don’t need a prescription for them but may need a medical professional’s advice about which option is best for your specific injury.
Routine Changes: Most of the time, simple changes can make a big difference. Options include
- Replacing a keyboard or a mouse
- Adding a wrist pad for support
- Taking extra breaks
- Getting a new chair
- Purchasing a standing desk
An ergonomic assessment via Telehealth is a great idea to help revamp your workstation and get you on the right path to recovery.
When you rethink your work from home strategy, you can make a difference in the way that your body is used throughout the workday. In turn, this removes the repetitive strain from your body.
Physical Therapy: It’s true that physical therapy is commonly associated with being most helpful after severe injuries or illnesses. It’s also actually a great solution for eliminating pain and discomfort from repetitive strain injuries in the workplace. The exercises that therapists recommend typically focus on increasing range of motion. Later on, they also include stretching and assessing improper movement patterns. After discovering and addressing the root of the problem, therapists incorporate strengthening exercises. These are especially useful for the hands, arms, and neck. In many cases, therapists pair strengthening exercises with stabilization exercises.
Working with a physical therapist to decrease and eliminate the symptoms from repetitive strain injuries is meant to improve the injured area and eliminate the root cause of the injury. For many, this also improves overall health, too.
Surgery: For repetitive strain injuries that have passed the point of responding to non-invasive treatments, surgery might be necessary. This is most common for the shoulders, wrists, and hands, but some people will need surgery on their neck or back, too. After surgery, a combination of the above methods (typically physical therapy and medication use) will often be necessary.
What to do When You Think You Have a Repetitive Strain Injury
The first step is to immediately stop whatever the activity is that is causing pain or issues. If the pain goes away or changes, and then comes back when you begin your task again, it’s time to seek out help.
Contacting a medical professional is the next step in order to evaluate your injuries and get suggestions for the best course of action for treatment. You can seek out a primary care or orthopedic physician as your first point of contact and he/she will most likely recommend physical therapy. However, you can also go directly to a physical therapist for repetitive strain injuries via direct access laws. You can find a physical therapy professional near you by using the BetterPT clinic location tool or downloading the BetterPT app is a great way to begin your path to recovery.
Many people are still being cautious about going out in public or exposing themselves to unnecessary risks by visiting medical clinics and facilities. For this reason, telehealth is always an option. One platform (the BetterTelehealth platform) is useful for patients that choose the physical therapy route. Using this will put you in contact with a physical therapist that works within a network that serves your location. It also allows a physical therapist to assess your current work activities and current workstation in the comfort of your own home.
Beginning by using telehealth allows you to continue working and living within your home. It also gives you access to caring and compassionate physical therapy professionals. When you are safe and ready, in-clinic appointments to receive hands-on manual treatment will further aid in your recovery. The help of physical therapists virtually and in-person can make all the difference when it comes to a repetitive strain injury healing or worsening.