“My workstation is in the bedroom. I get up from bed — and if I’m being honest, sometimes don’t even bother showering — and then literally move to the chair, and I sit there for most of the day,” said Ryan Taylor, a New York-based software engineer, who now has pain behind his shoulder.
“The body needs movement,” said Heidi Henson, an Oregon-based chiropractor, who, like the other chiropractors interviewed, said that pandemic-fueled inactivity has caused injuries and pain. “Even if you have perfect, perfect ergonomics, if you’re in the same position for too long, your body is not going to respond well.”
Increased screen-time on our phones — such as doom-scrolling Twitter — only inflames the inactivity. “Cellphones are a huge deal,” said Dr. Erickson, explaining that we tend to bend our necks to look down at our phones. She instead recommends holding your phone up to eye level, resting your elbow on your body for support. Scott Bautch, the president of the American Chiropractic Association’s Council on Occupational Health, says that as screen time has exploded, we’re more at risk of “Text Neck” and “Selfie Elbow.”
College students, teenagers and even younger kids are also at risk. “Teenagers are already prone to being on their screens a lot,” Dr. Henson said. “And then we’ve taken away everything that is good for them in terms of movement — sports are gone, gyms are gone.” She calls teens and college students an “overlooked population” from a health perspective.
Dr. Erickson agrees, adding that college students are “absolutely at risk,” particularly for neck tension, shoulder pain and headaches. Most middle school to college-age students, said Dr. Erickson, “are doing their work in bed, sitting rounded over” — like the “Peanuts” character Schroeder on the piano — “leaning over their laptop or phone for hours.” Thanks to increased screen time and inactivity, young children are also reporting more headaches and discomfort. “It’s not normal for an 8-year-old to have neck pain,” said Dr. Erickson, but now she’s seeing that in her practice.
There is some good news: The solutions can be simple and cheap. For laptop users, the one purchase that the experts resoundingly recommend is an external keyboard and mouse; you can get basic ones for about $20, and then place your laptop on a stack of books, raising the monitor to eye level. If your chair is too high for your feet to comfortably rest on the floor, use a footstool; if it’s too low, make it higher with pillows.
Two other important fixes are free: More breaks and more movement. Dr. Bautch suggests setting a timer for every 15 to 30 minutes to remind yourself to move, and recommends three different types of breaks: frequent “microbreaks” of just five seconds, in which you change your posture in the opposite direction of where it had been (so if you were looking down at the screen, for example, look up at the ceiling for five seconds); then periodic “macro breaks” of three to five minutes, such as deep breathing or stretching your shoulders; and finally “the big workout” of at least 30 minutes of exercise (ideally in one session), whether it’s riding a bike or the elliptical.