Headaches and Migraines whilst working from home! Avoid ‘laptop syndrome’

Government advice to continue working from home means that many of us have now spent half the year hunched over a laptop at the kitchen table.

This has given rise to the aches and pains of so-called ‘laptop syndrome’; a condition which occurs when we spend hour upon hour in unsuitable positions.

On Mornings, physiotherapist Sammy Margo warned that our increasingly sedentary lifestyle is having a serious impact on our health.

Woman reclining on sofa using laptop

Image: Mimi Thian/Unsplash

She said, “Laptops are not really designed to do an 8-10 hour working day,”.

“[Since lockdown] everyone’s scared of losing their job. They’re sitting for longer periods, they’re not taking regular breaks … they’re barely getting out of their pyjamas.”

For many, the daily commute has been reduced to a short journey from the bedroom to the kitchen.

“They’re literally going from their bed to a C-shaped posture for somewhere in the region of 8-10 hours a day,” said Sammy.

She explained that her profession is seeing an upsurge in headaches and migraine, as well as neck, shoulder, arm and lower back pain from the “day in day out grind of sitting in this position”.

Are you sitting comfortably?

Occupational therapist, Sally Payne, offered advice for everyone working from home.

“Think about posture,” she advised.  “What people should be looking for is a position where they can sit with their shoulders relaxed, their hips, their knees and their ankles all at 90 degrees. If you can get your feet flat on the floor that’s absolutely brilliant.” 

Sally also suggests pushing the laptop a little away from the edge of the table to allow space for wrists to rest. 

Some may find their kitchen set-up works well for them but Sally sounded a note of warning:

“The worst possible position would be to sit on a barstool at a kitchen work surface because you’ll be hovering with your legs dangling and your arms are not resting comfortably.”

It’s easy to dismiss the first grumblings of aches and pains but Sally advised that we pay heed to them.

She said, “If you’re getting pain in your body then that’s going to affect not only your work but the other daily activities that you do, and your mental health and well-being as well,”

The worst possible position would be to sit on a barstool at a kitchen work surface

Sally Payne, Occupational Therapist

Preventative measures

Even those lucky enough to have a perfect home work space can benefit from exercising to prevent aches and strains. Sammy suggested trying regular gentle stretches.

“Ensure you’ve got your B.B.C. – bum into the back of the chair,” she said. “And while you’re doing that turn your head from left to right, look up and down at the ceiling, then [lean your] ear to shoulder followed by [the other] ear to shoulder. Shoulder rolling is another great exercise you can do.”

And, Sammy advised that even though we’re working we don’t have to do it all sitting down.

“Sitting to standing is one of my favourite exercises because it helps to keep your legs strong. If you’re on the phone to one of your work colleagues or you need to have a break [changing from] sitting to standing is a great way to keep yourself mobile.”