America's work-from-home culture was born out of necessity but now appears to be here to stay, even in a post-pandemic workplace.
During the early months of 2020, a novel coronavirus forced America, and the rest of the world, into unchartered territory. When the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic in March of that year, more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries and 4,291 deaths were confirmed.
By April 2020, COVID cases in New York state alone rose to 159,937, prompting a critical hospital bed and ventilator shortage. In response, the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a contract for ventilator production under the Defense Production Act with General Motors.
Lockdowns and stay-at-home orders quickly followed throughout the United States, and America dove head-first into an unplanned experiment in working from home.
Remote work takes off
Since those fateful months in early 2022, lockdowns have become a thing of the past. However, 38 percent of remote workers report that their workplace remains closed or is unavailable to them. Another 61 percent of workers say they continue to work from home by choice rather than necessity—a majority citing improved work/life balance benefits, according to Pew Research Center.
Work from home is here to stay
Once frowned upon by many employers for fear that it would reduce employee productivity, a study by recruitment agency Apollo Technical found that work-from-home employees are 47 percent more productive.
The job site Indeed
reports, "This massive shift toward working from home has been a success for many employers…Though this pandemic will not last forever, the future of work will never be the same."
What are the negative aspects of working from home for vein health?
"In the way that working from the office can lock us into routines that are not healthy for our veins, so can working from home," says Dr. Terpstra. While a comfortable chair is, well, comfortable, work-from-home-employees need to consider an ergonomic seating position that keeps the pelvis balanced, aligns the shoulders, spine, and hips, and provides lower back support that promotes good posture.
Unfortunately, these well-balanced work chairs "are often difficult to find (in the home environment) because our home chairs and other furniture are built for comfort and use rather than for efficiency and health," Dr. Terpstra adds.
How can we improve our work-from-home environment?
Dr. Terpstra emphasizes that healthy work-from-home habits are virtually the same as those in a traditional in-office arrangement, which include:
Varying the position of the legs
Dr. Terpstra recommends that people who work all day at a desk "keep your knees and hips almost at a parallel position so that your hips are in a right angle and your knees are in a right angle. Too much of an acute angle in the knees will impede circulation in the upper half of the body. Too much of an obtuse angle causes a dangle in the knees if the hips are above the knees, limiting circulation to the legs' lower half."
Never stay seated or standing in a stationary position for long periods
Sitting really is the new smoking!
Sitting for long periods creates poor circulation in the legs, which makes it harder for the veins to move blood to the heart. This can lead to blood pooling in the legs, causing swelling in the lower legs and ankles, varicose veins, and even deep vein thrombosis (DVT) blood clots.
Sitting for long periods can also lead to metabolic syndrome problems such as increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, and excess body fat around the waist. These conditions increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Similarly, standing for too long makes it harder for blood to circulate, increasing pressure in the veins. Tiny valves that regulate blood flow weaken and become inefficient, causing swelling, cramping, feelings of leg heaviness, and varicose veins.
Getting up and walking at least 250 to 500 steps every hour "increases circulatory vigor as well as maintaining muscle mass in the lower half of the body," advises Dr. Terpstra.
Dr. Terpstra suggests that at-home workers set an alarm to remind them to move every hour during the workday for vein health.
Choose the right chair.
The best chair for vein health supports the spine's natural curves and keeps the knees and hips aligned parallel to the floor. This position forces a proper upright sitting posture with the shoulders back. Using a footstool can help achieve this posture.
Are standing desks or working treadmills worth the expense?
Dr. Terpstra calls this a "trick question" because one can achieve all the benefits of a standing desk or an under-desk treadmill without spending money. She recommends getting up to walk and changing position from seated to standing every hour—no equipment is necessary.
What work-at-home equipment do you recommend?
Dr. Terpstra says anything that enables someone to exercise and work simultaneously will help circulatory health. For example, a seated ball "maintains a balance of the central core as well as the legs, will also keep muscle tone at its optimum while you're seated."
Resistance bands at the knees and ankles are a great exercise that one can use under the desk, adds Dr. Terpstra.
What vein-related symptoms should an at-home worker be aware of?
Dr. Terpstra recommends that people who work from home watch for the following signs of poor circulatory health:
Changes in the sensations of the legs
Legs that feel heavy or tired
Skin that tingles
Swelling from the knee to the ankle (Dr. Terpstra adds that swelling into the feet is a separate and different issue and not necessarily always related to venous health)
The presence of twisted, swollen, or enlarged veins that weren't visible before
What should I do if I have vein-related symptoms?
Dr. Terpstra recommends that anyone concerned about their vein health have a consultation
with a vein specialist, such as the board-certified vein physicians at Center for Vein Restoration. Your doctor will perform an ultrasound of your veins (if indicated) to assess blood flow and detect poorly functioning valves in your leg veins. Your vein doctor can then intervene and work with you to optimize your venous health at home.
Your vein doctor may recommend wearing support stockings, which Dr. Terpstra says are readily available at pharmacies or online. She adds that over-the-counter stockings won't be as good as a medical grade, but not everyone needs medical-grade compression, adding, "if you want to know which compression
is right for you, you do need to visit your healthcare provider."
Are recommendations for vein health the same as for cardiac health?
Dr. Terpstra points out that the COVID-19 pandemic heightened anxiety increased eating, especially in a work-from-home environment. "This can lead to weight gain, which is bad for your circulatory health, bad for your cardiac health, and bad for your venous health," she says, adding:
"Vein health is
health. And all the things that would contribute to a healthy life and a healthy body will also contribute to healthy veins— things like an exercise routine that you'll stick to and one that will benefit you as far as muscle tone and circulatory vigor." – Dr. Barbara Terpstra
Is there a mental health/vein health connection?
"With the increase in anxiety, isolation, loneliness, and depression that we've all experienced in the last two and a half to three years, it's very important to remember that you have options available to you for optimizing your health. A healthy mind and a healthy body go a long way towards making you adjust better to a new normal and keep your body healthy to maintain circulatory, mental, and cardiac health." – Dr. Barbara Terpstra
Do you work from home and are concerned about your health?
Chances are good that you or someone you know works remotely. According to McKinsey & Company, the computer-based office work environment lends itself seamlessly to remote employment and accounts for roughly one-third of all jobs in the United States. Job search site Ladders
predicts that remote opportunities will continue to increase through 2023.
This sedentary lifestyle can contribute to venous insufficiency, blood clots, and varicose veins.
Consult with a CVR vein specialist near you
to discuss your risks and develop a plan to stay healthy. Call 1-800-FIX-LEGS or schedule an appointment online. Most insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid, are accepted.