And people aren’t just working in more challenging physical circumstances; they’re also spending more time doing it. “In the office, people work for eight or nine hours, but now they find themselves working 10 or 12 hours at home just because there’s no commute time,” Natalia Ruiz, a physical therapist at NYU Langone Orthopedic Center, told me of her patients. “Expectations of productivity have increased because you’re working from home.” In her practice, she’s seen more complaints of back and neck pain, but also more “repetitive strain” injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis in the hands and forearms, and pinched nerves in the elbows.
The circumstances of work have changed in some way for millions of Americans, whether that has meant working from home, working longer and more physically punishing hours, or being laid off and largely stuck at home to job-search online. The problems emerging in doctors’ offices are mostly those bothering people who can work from home, because, among other reasons, their jobs are more likely to offer health insurance and time off to seek care than those held by essential workers. People who suddenly shifted to working from home were caught without the basic ergonomic equipment found in many offices, such as adjustable-height desk chairs and laptop stands that can raise screens up to eye level. Some people cobbled together healthier setups as it became clearer how long they would be out of the office, but for many who have lost work or taken pay cuts, spending hundreds of dollars on equipment isn’t feasible. For those living in cramped housing with kids who go to Zoom school and other family members who also need space to work, building a personal mini office simply isn’t an option.
Nancy Durban, a pediatric physical therapist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, told me that a combination of increased anxiety and uncomfortable computer setups has created a pain spiral for some of her patients. Anxiety “increases their muscle tension, which then makes them hurt more, which makes them move less, which makes them then sleep worse,” Durban told me. “That increases their anxiety and decreases their ability to move again.” As some schools have reopened and resumed extracurricular activities, she has also noted an uptick in sports injuries among kids, who might not have understood that months of isolation diminished their physical capacity to play soccer or run track, or who were simply overexcited to be back with their teammates.
Poppas worries that isolation’s worst cardiovascular ramifications may be ahead of us, though. Depression and anxiety, both of which have surged among Americans during the pandemic, are enormous risk factors for heart problems, especially among people over 50. Quarantine itself is also a risk factor. “Loneliness and social isolation increase the risk of myocardial infarction and stroke by up to 30 percent,” she told me. “I had a patient who said she hasn’t seen [anybody else] in months, and it just broke my heart.”Is Quarantine Giving You Headaches, Back Pain, and More? – The Atlantic