Co-Founder, Don Levine, Quoted in Boston Globe on Pandemic Pain

After a year of working from home at a card table, I’m paying the price at the physical therapist

As an avid runner, swimmer, and cyclist for about 30 years, I’ve suffered my share of injuries. But it was another activity that caused excruciating pain to erupt in my back and left leg six weeks ago, a throbbing and tingling so severe that I’m still on prescription painkillers and a muscle relaxant.

Working from home for a year.

Like millions of other people fortunate enough to be able to do their jobs remotely during the pandemic, I’ve spent 13 months hunched over a laptop for hours without the usual breaks you get at the office and while commuting. As a biotech reporter, I’ve covered the development, testing, and rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. And like those of many other folks working from home, my “office” in Providence has been less than ideal ergonomically: an unpadded dining room chair at a bridge table set up in my 21-year-old daughter’s old bedroom.

Now I’m paying the price. An MRI last month showed three disks protruding in my lower spine, two of them pinching the sciatic nerve that runs down my left leg to my foot. The diagnosis sounded like something you might receive after getting injured in a car crash. But my orthopedist and physical therapist said the vertebrae-cushioning disks most likely bulged in part from something more prosaic: crummy posture at my poorly designed makeshift workstation.

I’m hardly the only one hurting. Physical therapists in Massachusetts and Rhode Island told me that although business plunged during the lockdown in the first half of 2020, they soon saw a surge of patients complaining about head, neck, shoulder, and back pain linked to ergonomically unsound home office setups.

“Beds and couches have become workstations,” said Don Levine, cofounder of Pappas OPT Physical, Sports and Hand Therapy in Middletown, R.I. “They put a lot of stress on the low back and neck. Even working at the dining room table can cause issues, as hard surfaces and poor posture will increase the pressure on structures in the back.”

Bob Beese knows that all too well. The 51-year-old financial planner in Portsmouth, R.I., went to Levine in the fall, complaining of pain in his left shoulder. The physical therapist asked where he worked at home.

Beese said he was spending 14-hour days at a laptop on his dining room table. He was sitting on a low unpadded chair that caused him to angle his hands upward. He was slouching forward to look at the screen, instead of looking at a monitor positioned at eye level on his desk at the office. And he seldom got up to stretch.

Levine encouraged him to move to a taller padded chair in the kitchen and work at the table there until he returned to the office in January. He also urged Beese to sit up straight and regularly perform specific exercises and stretches, which relieved the pain.

“I felt like an idiot,” Beese said of how he got injured. “You’re thinking it’s going to be from being out playing basketball in the driveway with the kids. You don’t expect it to be from just sitting there.”

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