The couch, the kitchen table, the pillow-fort with blanket awnings …
Wherever it was that employees found themselves working during the pandemic’s commonplace work-from-home policies at companies, it’s a big jump to return to the office environment.
Not that, as physical therapist Rose Hernandez might point out, anyone is ready for any jumping — or anything else that might throw out a back — right now.
“I hear so often, ‘I’m back at work and happy to be out of the house, but I’m developing this type of pain I didn’t have before,’” she said. “’I need this job, but my feet are just killing me.’”
Hernandez, regional director of Trinity Rehab, said that, as employees knock off the dust of two years of remote work to return to the office, it’s taking its toll in the form of foot, back and other types of pain. That pain, across this organization’s 36 physical therapy clinics, is being answered by a technology that has been around for more than a decade, but is more popular now than ever.
Local physical therapy and rehabilitation centers that saw an uptick in people with either new or reawakened aches as employees made the transition to remote work arrangements are seeing another wave of reported muscle pain as people make the switch back.
Tips for staying healthy
As much as her business might rely on a steady stream of patients, Rose Hernandez says she’d rather not have to see you walk in the doors of one of her physical therapy centers.
So, if you’re one of the individuals making a return to the office this year, here’s what she said you can do to avert having a stop at Trinity Rehab become part of the daily routine:
- Don’t worry about a classy commute: It’s easy to take a walk to and from the subway station for granted. But, Hernandez said, for people who might have been wearing socks on their feet for two years’ worth of workdays, traveling on foot again in business-friendly shoes will not be a walk in the park. Wear comfortable sneakers during commutes, and then later swap into the professional footwear that might hurt your feet and knees over long distances.
- Get the support you need: As companies encourage a return to the office, Hernandez suggests it might be the right time to ask for accommodations that improve ergonomics and reduce potential for long-term, desk work-inflicted problems. Stand-up desks or chairs with lower back support might be the difference-maker for people returning to a straight 9-to-5 after splitting up the on-the-clock minutes during days of remote work. Also, she’ll add, make sure you’re sitting in proper seating positions, with computer screens at eye-level and knees bent at 90 degrees.
- Avoid Zooming right into bad habits: After having a long stretch of being able to get up and walk around, or even stretch, between Zoom calls at home, Hernandez said it’s going to be important for people to continue to match some of those on-your-feet pauses in office environments. She added that, although it’s outside the scope of her physical therapy practice, continuing to eat healthy — keeping fruits, vegetables and fiber in diets — while dealing with perhaps a busier, more fast-food-tempted daily schedule will be equally important.
Hernandez described a situation wherein individuals have suddenly gone from walking 2,000 steps daily to more than 10,000 again. Those jarring circumstances are causing the flareup of issues that Trinity Rehab’s New Jersey clinics often help alleviate with what’s referred to as extracorporeal pulse activation treatment, or EPAT.
EPAT, also known as acoustic pressure wave therapy, is popular largely because of how much time patients have to devote to it: not much.
Sessions with the FDA-approved technology, which targets pain and inflammation with a set of high-frequency pressure waves aimed at pain sites, only take five minutes. There’s no anesthesia, Hernandez said, and few side effects.
“So, it’s really for the person who doesn’t have a lot of time to spend on rehabilitation,” she said. “And it’s getting great results, with many reporting they’re able to return to the workplace with less pain, while also being able to do whatever it is they like to do on weekends, such as ski or take exercise classes.”
It has the feeling of a new health technology, but Hernandez said their clinics have been using it at least eight years, and it has been available farther back than that.
The limited amount of patient commitment this surgery-alternative treatment requires is its major selling point today — especially, Hernandez said, with those returning to the workforce perhaps finding less time on their hands.
“And patients are seeing 75% improvement with the machines,” she added. “It’s a fast way to eliminate or reduce pain for those who do not have time for a full course of (physical therapy) treatment while returning to work. People walk in, get their treatment and get on their way.”
And, sometimes, the selling point does have to be attached. Not all insurance plans cover the treatment, which is why a wider array of patients don’t utilize it. Some are willing to pay out of pocket, Hernandez said.
Somewhere between 30-50% of Trinity Rehab patients still use it in the course of their care today. And, as more of the middle-aged population returns to commuting, more time-strapped workers might find themselves needing a quick fixer-upper.
“A person who has now returned to the in-office workforce might be waking up significantly earlier than they used to and getting home later — with no time for stretching or a workout between then,” Hernandez said.