For the millions of Americans working from home as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, it may come as no surprise to learn that doctors are seeing an increase in the number of patients with injuries sustained at home.
According to Roy Cardoso, M.D., a hand and upper extremity surgeon at Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute, part of Baptist Health South Florida, people have been finding all sorts of ways to hurt themselves – tackling a home improvement project, attempting repairs beyond their skill level or simply sitting in a different chair or position while working on a computer.
“We’re seeing a lot of trauma to fingers from hammers, and just had one patient who sustained serious nerve damage when he punctured his thumb with a screwdriver,” says Dr. Cardoso. “We’re also seeing a lot of people breaking bones from falling off ladders, tearing muscles from heavy lifting, or hurting themselves from working out at home because their gym is closed.”
It should go without saying, but Dr. Cardoso advises against doing any home improvement projects while under the influence of alcohol or other substances. “Impaired motor coordination and power tools are a dangerous combination,” he says. “As with any type of manual labor, be aware of the dangers, take your time, and focus on one task at a time. Don’t try to do everything at once.”
Another common cause of at-home injuries, Dr. Cardoso says, is poor ergonomics, which can contribute to painful conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger finger and a variety of repetitive stress injuries.
“At the office, your workspace is probably designed to help you avoid common aches and pains from poor posture,” Dr. Cardoso says. “But now people are working from home, sitting on their sofa or at the dinner table, hunched over their laptop, and they’re suddenly noticing pain in their neck, shoulders, back, elbows, wrists or fingers.” Also, he says, pain in one area can cause you to overcompensate with other muscles, which can put added stress on those muscles.
Working at a computer requires good back posture and lumbar support, according to Dr. Cardoso. “Don’t hunch forward – sit tall with your shoulders pushed back comfortably. Your elbows should be extended, not bent, and your computer screen should be a comfortable distance and height so you don’t strain or lean forward.” He also recommends taking regular breaks to do some basic stretches from the shoulder down. (A selection of short and simple instructional videos demonstrating different stretches can be found at the end of this article.)
Dr. Cardoso says there are some people who definitely need care but are putting it off because of the coronavirus. “A lot of our patients are elderly and afraid of COVID-19, and they’re holding on to their pain,” he notes. “One patient suffered with a wrist fracture for more than a month before she came in to see us.” Some patients are also trying to treat themselves but doing the wrong things, he says, underscoring the importance of seeing an experienced specialist who can provide an accurate diagnosis.
Patients at Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute – or any Baptist Health facility –should rest assured that every possible precautionary measure is being taken and that the safety of patients and staff is paramount.
“We make sure that everyone is screened before entering and that masks are worn at all times,” Dr. Cardoso says. “We also ensure social distancing in our lobbies, waiting rooms and other public areas, and clean all high-touch surfaces regularly throughout the day.”
Concerned you may have coronavirus?
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