Work from home affecting your bones? Experts on side effects of too much sitting | Health - Hindustan Times

Is work from home making your bones weak? Experts on side effects of prolonged sitting

By, New Delhi
Aug 01, 2023 12:28 PM IST

Prolonged sitting not only makes you gain weight, damage your back bones and back muscles but also put you at risk of clotting in legs.

In the post Covid world, many workplaces have shifted to work from home or hybrid model which has made life easier for employees in many ways as they are better rested, able to maintain work-life balance and also save money on commuting. However, work from home has its own set of disadvantages for overall health which cannot be overlooked. The model may be making us less active and affecting various aspects of our health. Many people sit in the same position for hours working from home and when they do not exercise or walk regularly, they may experience bone, muscle and joint related issues, say experts. Muscles and joints need regular workout to stay in top shape and not moving them enough can deteriorate their condition over a period of time. (Also read: 5 dangerous sitting postures to avoid; exercises to correct them)

WFH forces you to sit for long hours that hampers your sitting posture from proper lumbar erect posture to crouched position(Freepik)
WFH forces you to sit for long hours that hampers your sitting posture from proper lumbar erect posture to crouched position(Freepik)

Not stepping out of home can also reduce exposure of Vitamin D which can affect calcium absorption and affect bone health. The lack of change in settings can also make one dull and affect energy levels.

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Dangerous for bones, can lead to fatal conditions

"Work from home (WFH) is the latest self-created silent misery for the human body which came into existence during Covid and is still commonly practiced. It is rightly said that 'sitting is the new smoking' which means that prolonged sitting required in jobs is as deleterious to health overall as smoking cigarettes. Prolonged sitting not only makes you gain weight, damage your back bones and back muscles but also put you at risk of clotting in legs also known as deep venous thrombosis (DVT) that can also lead to fatal pulmonary embolism (clot migrating to lungs)," says Dr. Prof Puneet Mishra, Additional Director & Unit Head Orthopaedics, Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh.

Wrong posture exacerbates aches and pains

"WFH forces you to sit for long hours that hampers your sitting posture from proper lumbar erect posture to crouched position which makes the lower and mid back muscles weak over time and gradually leads to early muscle fatigue resulting in mid and lower back aches and neck aches and spasms occurring very frequently. This is further compounded by a sedentary lifestyle wherein lack of physical exercise leads to lack of endurance and core body strength that further increases propensity for back, neck and shoulder pains on a recurring basis," add Dr Prof Mishra.

WFH factors that can affect bone health

Dr Saksham Mittal, Senior Consultant, Orthopaedics, Pristyn Care says while there is no direct scientific evidence that work-from-home arrangements can making people's bones weaker but there are some factors related to remote work that could potentially affect bone health indirectly.

1. Sedentary lifestyle: Working from home can lead to a more sedentary lifestyle, where individuals might spend long hours sitting at a desk or on a couch. A sedentary lifestyle is associated with various health issues, including weakened bones.

2. Lack of physical activity: When people work from home, they might miss out on their daily commute, walking around the office, or other incidental physical activities that they used to do when working in a traditional office setting. Regular physical activity is essential for maintaining strong bones.

3. Reduced exposure to natural sunlight: Staying indoors for prolonged periods can result in reduced exposure to sunlight, which is crucial for the production of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is necessary for calcium absorption and bone health.

4. Poor ergonomics: Some individuals may not have an ideal home office setup, leading to poor posture and strain on bones and muscles over time.

5. Stress and mental health: Prolonged stress and anxiety, which can be exacerbated by the work-from-home situation, might indirectly impact bone health.

6. Spinal health: Poor sitting posture, especially when using chairs that do not provide adequate support, can lead to spinal misalignment and increased pressure on the intervertebral discs. Over time, this can contribute to back pain and other spinal issues.

7. Decreased bone density: Weight-bearing exercises, where bones support your body's weight, are essential for maintaining bone density. Prolonged sitting reduces weight-bearing activity, which may contribute to decreased bone density and an increased risk of osteoporosis.

8. Restricted blood flow: Certain postures can compress blood vessels, restricting blood flow to muscles and joints. Reduced blood flow can impair nutrient delivery to these areas and hamper the body's ability to repair and maintain tissues.

9. Impact on ligaments and tendons: Prolonged sitting with incorrect posture can also impact ligaments and tendons around joints. This can lead to strain, inflammation, and, in some cases, contribute to conditions like tendinitis.

10. Increased risk of chronic conditions: Poor posture and a sedentary lifestyle have been associated with an increased risk of chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes, which can indirectly affect bone and joint health.

Dr Debashish Chanda - Lead Consultant- Orthopaedics, CK Birla Hospital, Gurugram adds that sitting in comfortable yet wrong postures can indeed have negative effects on bone and joint health.

11. Reduced weight-bearing activity: Working from home often involves sitting for extended periods, which reduces weight-bearing activity that helps maintain bone density. Lack of weight-bearing exercise can lead to weaker bones over time.

12. Muscle imbalances: Prolonged sitting can cause certain muscles to weaken while others become tight and overactive. These muscle imbalances can affect joint stability and mobility, increasing the risk of injuries and joint problems.

13. Reduced joint lubrication: Staying in one position for too long can reduce joint fluid circulation and lubrication, making the joints stiffer and more prone to pain and inflammation.

Steps for a safe work from home

"To do a safe WFH that is unavoidable, one should lead a active lifestyle, do regular whole body stretches and exercise under proper guidance for 45 minutes daily, build core strength of the muscles of spine, avoid prolonged sitting for more than 20 minutes at a stretch, proper sitting posture at work that supports the curves of the back and neck, avoid working with laptops in the bed or on a couch which is the worst possible posture for the entire back, work in standing position after every 29 minutes or so, construct a proper ergonomic work station at home, maintain adequate levels of vitamin D, calcium and proteins by taking proper dietary and medical advice, maintain ideal body weight, avoid alcohol and quit smoking," says Dr. Prof Puneet Mishra.

To mitigate the negative effects of work-from-home on bone and joint health, Dr Chanda suggests following measures:

Take regular breaks: Incorporate short breaks throughout the day to stand, stretch, and move around.

Set up an ergonomic workspace: Ensure your workstation is set up to promote good posture and support your back and joints.

Perform exercises: Incorporate daily exercise routines that include weight-bearing activities and stretches to keep your bones and joints healthy.

Stay mindful of your posture: Be conscious of your posture while working and make adjustments as needed.

Consider a sit-stand desk: If possible, invest in a sit-stand desk to alternate between sitting and standing during work hours.

Stay hydrated: Drink enough water to support joint lubrication.

By adopting these practices, you can reduce the potential negative impact of work-from-home on your bone and joint health.

From an orthopedic point of view, here are a few additional considerations to help maintain bone and joint health as per Dr Chanda:

Avoid excessive repetitive movements: Performing the same motions repeatedly can strain specific joints and lead to overuse injuries. Vary your activities and take breaks to prevent repetitive stress on joints.

Warm-up before exercise: Prioritize warming up your muscles and joints before engaging in physical activities. This helps improve blood flow and prepares your body for the exercise ahead, reducing the risk of injury.

Cross-train: Engage in a variety of exercises and physical activities to work different muscle groups and reduce the risk of overloading specific joints.

Use joint-friendly exercises: If you have existing joint issues or concerns, opt for low-impact exercises like swimming or cycling, which are easier on the joints.

Listen to your body: Pay attention to any signs of discomfort, pain, or joint instability. If you experience persistent pain or swelling, seek medical attention promptly.

Weight management: Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for reducing the stress on weight-bearing joints like knees and hips.

Consult an orthopedic specialist: If you have specific concerns about your bones or joints, seek advice from an orthopedic doctor. They can provide personalized guidance and treatment options based on your individual needs.

Remember, taking proactive steps to care for your bones and joints can significantly improve your overall musculoskeletal health and help prevent potential orthopedic issues in the long run.

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