Maybe it is the kitchen counter and a stool. Perhaps a coffee table and a couch combo. Whatever the setup was, and maybe still is, those on-the-fly, makeshift work-from-home setups are leading to an increased risk of soft tissue injuries, according to Mary Reaston, founder and CEO of Emerge Diagnostics.

While the dining room table and chair set might be a great place to share a meal, it isn’t designed to support someone throughout a workday, Reaston tells The same goes for those couch potatoes slouched over a laptop or hovering above a coffee table.

“There is also a blurring of lines of when we work and don’t work,” she explains. “The computer is sending out messages to us, ‘a little more time, a little more time.’ Even if you had a work setup at home, and not many did, they weren’t set up to take the breaks you normally would during the day.”

This always-on mind frame can also lead to employee burnout.

Over time, typing away with inappropriate posture and ergonomically unfriendly spaces — combined with employees not taking breaks or doing exercises — increases strain on the back and that can lead to neck and back pain.

For employees experiencing back pain, Reaston says getting an accurate diagnosis early is critical to achieving better outcomes. However, diagnosing and treating soft tissue injuries is difficult, as they are very subjective.

“Relying on someone self-reporting an injury, especially when not in the workplace, presents an extra challenge for employers,” she says.

This, of course, also presents a predicament for workers’ comp. How do you determine if a self-reported remote work injury was an on-the-clock incident or an “around the house” injury?

“That is the billion-dollar question. There is no good way to tell,” Reaston says. “If you reach behind you to grab a bag of Cheetos or a file and are injured, no one is going to be able to tell.”

She notes the key is to get early intervention and a detailed history of how the employee describes the incident.

While it is not possible to eliminate these risks, they can be reduced. For instance, if the workforce is small enough, an employer could supply more ergonomically friendly working surfaces and tools.

“I think they (employers) have to be tuned into their remote workforce and realize the same set of risk factors they have in a controlled setting, like an office, still apply with remote workers,” she says. “They need to talk to employees that are working from home and set some boundaries. Tell them not to let the lines blur (between work and home life). And tell them to report any injury early on.”

This article was written by Steve Hallo with National Underwriters. To learn more, visit: