There’s No Place Like Home…for Work
Even before the pandemic, working from home has become a norm in our society. Whether you do your job from a home office full-time, or have a temporary setup during an unexpected shift in your routine, there are impacts to your overall health that you should consider. We invite Samantha Cooper Cauthon, facility manager & physical therapist at Athletico, to join us in a discussion about ways to improve your workspace, routines to employ and other tips for working from home in a health-conscious manner.
Scott Sturgeon: Welcome to another episode of Your Life, Simplified. I’m Scott Sturgeon. And on today’s episode, we’re going to dive into a topic that I think is likely relevant to many of our listeners’ lives. And that’s working from home. Since March, or late February, whatever the timeframe started. Many of our listeners have been in fact, doing their daily jobs from the comfort of their living room or their basement, or maybe the discomfort of their child’s closet or whatever space they can find. But obviously, with that comes some changes, whether it’s in your workflow, or the way that you engage with your colleagues, or just your overall health. So, today, I think this is going to be a great episode. We’re going to talk with Samantha Cooper Cauthon. She is a facility manager and physical therapist with Athletico Physical Therapy. They have offices all over the country. Sam, personally, my own bias, I think Sam is a terrific physical therapist. She helped me with some shoulder issues I was having the last couple of years. I really look forward to this conversation. So, Sam, is there anything in the intro I missed that needs to be shared about your tremendous background?
Samantha Cooper Cauthon: No, I think you covered everything. Just a brief background on physical therapy in general. Physical therapists now have doctorate physical therapy degrees. I like to joke that I’m Doc Sam now. But I really like getting people moving and teaching and educating. So, I’m excited for this conversation. Athletico is a company that started in Chicago, actually in 1991. We have expanded since then to all different states. We have 500 locations. It’s been really fun to work for Athletico. We’ve been in the Kansas City area for the last three years and we’ve just grown and made it a point to integrate ourselves into the community. We offer physical therapy, occupational therapy, during this time we’ve also started to offer a tele-health for the people who can’t get into the office. We also do free assessments, which just gives you the opportunity to chat with a physical therapist for 30 minutes and kind of be like, “Hey, I tweaked the shoulder. Will it go away? Or do I need to do a little bit more formalized here?” It’s a great way to just ask the question without having to jump through any hoops.
Scott: No question. That’s great. It’s just a really good way to very quickly diagnose if it’s something very serious or something that you can provide some help for. That’s awesome. So, I think just to start things off, we briefly chatted before we recorded, but I think since people started working from home, there have likely been, this is my guess, some trends that have arisen in whether it’s just in the healthcare space or the physical therapy space. Have you noticed any kind of changes in your patient population since maybe around March, in that timeframe, with people that are at home at a desk all day?
Samantha: It’s been interesting. I would say, the first part of this process of being at home March, April, May, we had a pretty big drop-off just because people weren’t comfortable being in the community and things like that. So, what I saw was because people were seeking help quickly, I got more chronic, like back and neck pain, issues. Things that would’ve probably been addressed pretty quickly and easily. Then, it just kind of exacerbated with working from home. A lot of people were sitting on couches or at the kitchen counter and just didn’t have the best setup because they weren’t prepared for it. So, I think the biggest trends would just be like that — back and upper neck pain. And then honestly, stress management, because let’s be honest, this is a stressful time and stress can really increase and make general pain worse and make it last longer than it should. So, figuring out how to deal with that. Stress has been another point that a lot of my conversations have been around the patient.
Scott: That’s really interesting. When you immediately made me think of physical therapy, it’s kind of joints and muscles and that sort of thing, but that whole emotional or mental element is huge. And it’s really interesting to hear that you cover that as well.
Samantha: If you don’t take care of your mind, you’re not going to be able to take care of the body. It’s the same thing. There are times when we talk about nutrition and that health with patients. If you don’t feed your body, you’re not going to feel good to heal. We’re not experts in nutrition or the mental game, but we do touch on those points to make sure we can refer out if we need to.
Scott: That makes sense. So, I guess for those that have been at it for nine months, basically working from home every day, some sort of zoom or phone calls with their colleagues or their loved ones or what have you, for those kinds of people, what are your general recommendations? Whether it’s exercise or nutrition, or do you have general thoughts that you think are good to share?
Samantha: Just move. It’s as simple as that. It sounds simple, but unfortunately it’s not. When we work from home specifically, we don’t have a lot of the interruptions that we have at work. We don’t have the conversations with coworkers. We don’t have the meetings to walk to. We don’t walk from our car to the building. We literally get out of bed and walk maybe down the hall, maybe two steps away from the bedroom to your home office to sit for eight hours a day. And of course, it depends on who’s at home, how many interruptions you may or may not have. But I think the biggest thing is just, a lot of times I’ll tell my patients, every 60 minutes you should be getting up and doing something. Whether it’s getting a drink of water, walking around the room, doing a quick roll of your shoulders and stretch, set a timer, put a sticky note by your computer, just remind yourself to get up. That’s the first step that you can do to get your body moving again.
Scott: Interesting, I mean, it’s so simple.
Samantha: Literally. It’s crazy, but with everyone I talk to, you get so focused with a work activity or you have Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting, you don’t have the chance to get up. So, having the option to put your computer on the countertop, maybe on a couple books to elevate it for a standing desk might be enough and then put it back down on your desk to sit. So, that sit to stand change can even be helpful there.
Scott: Nice. That’s really helpful. Aside from obviously standing up, or maybe walking into another room for that kind of movement, do you have a couple of exercises or stretches that you recommend for people? Whether they’re easy to do or can be done in somewhat of a confined space? Are there any recommendations there?
Samantha: Absolutely. I think one of my favorites, I call it a desk matrix. That’s just a personal name I put on it. But I love to give this one to my desk workers because you literally can be typing and doing these exercises. So, when they tell me that they don’t have time to get up and move, I’m like, fine, sit there and move. But it’s pretty simple. If you imagine yourself sitting at your computer, then you just want to hunch the shoulders forward, kind of bending the spine and then coming up, bringing your chest to the ceiling, closing down, opening up, exaggerating that movement 5-10 times. Just move around a little bit. Then the second one would be going side to side. If you imagine tilting your shoulders and your trunk to the left and then to the right, again, it opens up the spine, the neck, the shoulders, even into the low back. Then, the third one would just be rotating. Look over your shoulder to the left, look over your shoulder to the right again, you’re moving the spine, the shoulders, the neck, all of those things that get stiff with prolonged sitting and you don’t even have to get out of your chair.
Scott: I mean, how much easier can it get, right? That’s awesome.
Samantha: Now, if you do have the opportunity to get out of your chair, of course, there’s a bunch of things that you can do. One of the easiest ones is to just open up the whole body. If you have a staircase at home or a chair, you want to put one foot on the chair or the second step of your staircase, the one foot on the ground, one foot on the elevated surface, and then you drive your body forward, reaching to sky and it opens up that full front chain of your body. You’re getting your hip flexor, you’re getting your trunk, you’re getting your shoulders. You’re getting your neck, you’re getting your head. All of it moves really nicely, and you do that, again, 5-10 times. Then, put the other leg up and do it again. It’s one of those things that doesn’t take a lot of time, but it’s so simple
Scott: For sure. Is this maybe a couple of times a day, whenever you’re feeling a little tight, whether it’s in your shoulders or your back? Or whatever the case may be.
Samantha: Yeah. A couple of times a day, again, I said getting up every hour. It doesn’t mean you have to stretch specifically every hour, but you could definitely pull that in every couple of hours.
Scott: Perfect. That makes total sense. We think about, sitting at a desk, at least in our office at Mariner Wealth Advisors, we have, what I would say is a pretty cushy set up. We have a very nice standing desk. Our monitors are lined up perfectly. We have a great technology team that handles all of those elements for our employees. My at home set up is, well, now it’s better, but initially it was not great. Are there any kind of tips that you have on someone’s set up working from home? My wife corrected me that ergonomics is probably the correct term for this. Any thoughts or suggestions there?
Samantha: Absolutely. It’s really interesting, when we work from home, we have to get creative. So, a lot of the times I’ll talk to people and I’ll be like, okay, first let’s look at the desk environment you’re working with. Whether that’s the countertop, the couch hopefully it’s not the couch in eight months. You should move on from the couch, kitchen table, whatever it is, take a look at what’s going on, where your computer is at. The thing you want to do is get that monitor elevated. If you’re working on a laptop and you don’t have an external monitor, the monitors should be about eye level, so you’re not looking down and cranking your neck every day. I highly recommend an external keyboard. That way they can get the monitor up, whether it’s on a few textbooks. Again, if you were trying for a standing desk, a couple of textbooks on the kitchen counter can be doable. That’s where I would start. Now, if you have an external monitor, lucky you at home, not everybody gets that, but again, the external monitor should be raised on some type of book or stand.
Whatever it is that you have lying around the house, the monitor is about at your eye level, the top of the monitor should be just about eye level, maybe slightly below. When you’re setting up your computer, you want to be about arms-length away from it. You don’t want to be staring at the screen really close, but you also don’t want to be so far away that you’re squinting. About an arm’s length is what they recommend. Talked briefly about the keyboard. If you had the ideal position, your elbows would be about 90 degrees. You’re not reaching forward towards the keyboard. You’re not reaching up, you’re not reaching down. It’s just a really comfortable 90 degree position. I’m like external keyboards for the win every single time. And then, of course, your chair. Not everyone has the luxury of having a nice computer chair, but having something that’s a little bit supported, it’s going to be helpful if it has a back to it. Putting a pillow or a towel roll under that low back can be helpful if there’s not a lot of support. Ideally your feet are flat on the floor. And if you’re on an elevated chair, maybe have a box or some type of wedge under your feet, so they can be planted. Kind of grounds you a little bit.
Scott: Those are great suggestions. Personal anecdote here, or experience. I was having shoulder issues and some back issues early on…maybe in May or June. I discussed this with Sam and literally sent her a picture of my setup and she was able to dissect what was going on. More or less overnight, by putting several textbooks under my laptop and monitor, the pain went away. I was shocked. I mean, this is something that never would have registered for me to do. So, thank you, obviously for the personal health, but also for sharing. That’s all great, great advice.
Samantha: I think another quick point, a lot of people now have two monitors at the home, whether their workplace has set them up or they’ve chosen to have a more permanent desk. Just a reminder on the two monitors, if you use the monitors equally, you really want them paired up together. So, the monitors are almost touching and the touch point or the break in the monitors is about nose level. Then they’re slightly turned in, so they’re kind of facing you like a semi-circle. So, a lot of people have questions about the double monitors and that’s the way to do it.
Scott: Awesome. As we talked through the work from home, just to wrap up, are there any big kind of do’s or don’ts for work from home or any thoughts you have there?
Samantha: I think the biggest do’s and don’ts are just being patient with yourself. Taking the time to figure out what works best for your body, best for your home life, things like that. It’s a crazy world right now. If you just pay attention and even ask the right questions and be really mindful about what’s going on with your body, that’s one of the biggest gifts you can give yourself. Life is hard. I appreciate that. I respect that. I’m still going to do something about it to make myself better.
Scott: Well, the holidays are right around the corner. That’s a great gift. No question. It doesn’t really cost you anything either, which is even better. So, Sam, where we are today, at least as of this recording, there is somewhat of a glimmer of a vaccine on the rise or on the horizon, a light at the end of the tunnel, some people have said. Looking maybe beyond working from home, if someday, maybe a year from now, whenever the timeframe is, we’re back in the office or back to somewhat of a daily life, just for you, within physical therapy, what are probably the biggest or most common things you see among different patient groups? So, whether it’s younger patients versus older patients, are there things that tend to come up that you find could be prevented by kind of these low-level activities? Or are there things that kind of jump in that regard?
Samantha: Great question. Generally speaking, we’re an outpatient physical therapy clinic, so we get more of those weekend warriors. The people who aren’t college athletes or anything like that, but they’re active and they move, and they love to be outside, or to row, or go to the gym, or whatever it is that they love. So, we see, just generally speaking, people will tweak their back when they are lifting. They’ll tweak their back when they’re shoveling snow. They’ll play volleyball or go canoeing and they’ll get their shoulder tweaked. So, we really see kind of the general whole body. We do see a lot of, for the older population balance and general strengthening as well. So, physical therapy really does have this huge spectrum of care that we can help with. Balance, general strength, we see people post-injury, we see people post-surgery. I think the biggest takeaway for moving forward is, if you have an injury that’s not feeling so hot after a week, let your body recover. But if it’s still not there, ask for help. If we can get somebody in and they’re feeling more of that, like fresh soreness, whether it’s a fresh back tweak or a fresh shoulder injury, usually therapists can get those started and moving quicker than they would if you went to your general practitioner first and then waited for an MRI and then went to therapy. You’re going to end up in physical therapy anyway; just come see us first.
Scott: Never hurts to have a consultation. I would tend to agree. When you see those kinds of individuals, I’m sure I’ve been out there lifting things in the yard that are heavier than I should be. Are there other activities that you can do to avoid those issues that arise or is it just a simple matter of staying in motion or preparing your body for those kinds of things? Is there really a solution?
Samantha: There’s never going to be a solution. It’s really just going to be about staying active. Whether that’s walking, running, cycling, whatever it is that you love to do. There are ways to create mobility. If you know that you’re going to be raking leaves or moving furniture, because you’re moving houses, there are things that you can do to prep for that. You’ll do stretches, you can probably find them on the internet pretty easily. Just prep your body for movement, it’s going to treat you nicely.
Scott: I would imagine my friends would give me grief if I was touching my toes and such before I rake the leaves, but there’s probably a benefit to doing that. So, I totally get it. That’s great advice. Thank you. As we somewhat wrap up, is there anything we missed or points you want to make sure that our listeners are aware of? Thoughts that are good to incorporate into their everyday workflow?
Samantha: A point I really wanted to make sure we talked about was the 20-20-20 recommendation. This one’s really simple to do at work. It’s looking away from your computer monitor every 20 minutes. The idea is to focus on something that is 20 feet away and hold view for 20 seconds. Basically, you’re helping your eyes and the rest of your body from being strained from focusing on the monitor for so long. It’s a great way, whether it’s an alarm on your phone or again, a sticky note by your computer, just to remind yourself to focus on something else for a few seconds and then go back to work.
Scott: I’m sure you could probably incorporate that into walking or while you’re doing stretches away from your computer. Probably a great time to do the 20-20-20 process. So, Sam, just to wrap things up, I feel like the question we’d like to ask or maybe the more difficult question if you will, just to end things. The last thing I want to ask you, I think it’s helpful to summarize a lot of what we’ve done, is what do you think, in your time as a physical therapist, is the biggest lesson?
Samantha: The biggest lesson I’ve learned has probably been to just listen to the patients. I have been doing this for about five years and it’s amazing the experience and the confidence that I’ve gained just seeing multiple people come through my door and affecting multiple people’s lives. But most of the time, if you ask the right questions and you listen to what the person in front of you is saying, they’re going to point you in the direction you need to go. They’re going to tell you what they want to get out of therapy, what goals they have, whether it’s picking up the grandkids, running a triathlon or mowing the yard. They’re going to tell you what hurts. Maybe not why it hurts, but what affects them. Again, if you ask the right questions and you listen to the person, most of the time, you’re going to be able to change their functional outcomes and make them feel better. That’s the coolest thing…to watch somebody walk in your door who doesn’t feel good and maybe be a little bit grumpy because they don’t feel good. To have them hug you as they leave because you have changed their movements and you make them feel better. It gives them a brighter spot on the rest of their day, potentially the rest of their life. So, I think that’s my biggest takeaway from therapy. How amazing it is if I listen to the person in front of me, that I can really change their life.
Scott: That’s an experience I can personally relate to. And you’re exactly right. The feeling of walking out without issue or having overcome that challenge or that pain is a tremendous value and a tremendous benefit. Honestly, as you kind of described that process, it’s similar to what our wealth advisors do for clients at Mariner Wealth Advisors. It’s really just diagnosing and asking a lot of questions and listening to get to whatever issue, not necessarily a physical pain is confronting them, but typically some sort of financial challenge. There definitely a parallel there. So, Samantha to wrap up, thank you again so much for your time and for sharing all of this really great insight. I’m certain that our listeners are going to feel the same way.
Samantha: Well, thanks, Scott. I’m happy to be here and happy to have this conversation.
Scott: Absolutely. Well again, thank you all to our listeners for tuning in today. Again, we can’t emphasize enough, if you have suggestions or thoughts or comments, we’d really love your feedback. If you have any of that feedback you’d like to provide, by all means, shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks again for listening.
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