Let’s face it, the way we used to work has changed. Companies are transitioning from the typical nine to five at the corporate office to hybrid work from home model. With this transition there are challenges, and one of those challenges we are already hearing about is the nagging pain in the neck. Some might attribute it to their kids and/or pets interrupting them every 15 minutes while trying to have an important meeting or complete a time-sensitive project, but it is more likely stemming from the home ergonomic office set up.
Ergonomics is simply defined as the science of designing workplaces to optimize the fit between the individual worker and the tasks they undertake. If there are problems with just one part of the working environment, then this can affect multiple areas of the body and cause pain. Also, just because you do not currently have pain does not mean your at home set up is ergonomically correct. Pain may not occur until months down the road. Let us get ahead of this pain with some simple tips for setting up an ergonomic home workstation.
Your chair should be set up to have your knees at a right (90 degree) angle and your feet firmly on the floor. If you are shorter you may have to get a footrest, so your feet are rested on the floor. Your low back and shoulder blades should touch your chair when you are sitting so you do not slouch forward. If your back has an increased curve you may need a pillow or lumbar roll to place between your chair and low back to provide added support. The backs of your knees should not make contact with your chair and should be no more than 3 inches from your chair. Make sure you have. sufficient space between your hips and the side of your chair so that no portion of the side of your legs are contacting your chair. This positioning will reduce strain on the body and put it into proper musculoskeletal alignment.
When typing your elbows should be bent to 90 degrees, wrists in a straight line not angled out, up, or down. Keep your mouse close to your keyboard so you do not have to reach out to grasp it. The monitor should be flat and set up so you are looking slightly down at it. To decrease the strain on your eyes and reduce the risk of headaches from prolonged use, set up your computer in a room with limited light shining on your computer screen which leads to glare off the screen. If you have anti-glare filters as a setting on your monitor, make sure they are turned on.
You have a project due at the end of the day, so you get set up and start working. You are in the zone, so you keep working. When you look up you realize you just spent 6 hours sitting in the same position. You did not get up to go to the bathroom, you did not drink any water, or take a lunch. Your shoulders were hunched forward, butt on the edge of your chair, and eyes less than a foot from the screen. You now have a headache, your neck and back are sore, and find yourself running to the bathroom. This is very common scenario and while being productive and “in the zone” has its benefits taking a moment for self-care can prevent these pains from happening and ultimately make you more productive on the job.
Every hour you should change your position. Do some reversal of posture exercises, get up and walk, or simply take a break. Doing this is a great way to reset your body and mind. Set a timer if you need to and when it goes off stand up, extend your back, squeeze your shoulder blades, roll your shoulders back, stretch your wrists, and reach your arms overhead. Did you do it? No seriously, do it right now.
It probably took you less than 5 minutes. Just standing up and doing these exercises will make your body feel more energized while also less strained. The next time the timer goes off get up get up and walk to get a glass of water. It is important to stay hydrated through the day. Make sure you get up and walk to get your water so that your body gets moving and your eyes get a break from the screen.
If you have a desk that allows you to stand and work, then the next hour stand instead of sit. If you do stand be sure to wear supportive shoes or orthotics. Comfy slippers and socks might feel comfortable on your feet but your ankles, knees, hips and lower back are probably out of alignment, which can lead to pain. Supportive shoes or orthotics establish a strong base for your body and by supporting your arches help keep your hips over your knees over your ankles.
We know that each workstation is different, and every job has different demands. Hopefully after reading this you can implement some of these tips to decrease the risk of the pains from working at home. If you would like more information on how to set-up your workstation to address your specific needs, you can schedule a virtual ergonomic assessment with one of our skilled physical therapists. Stay safe and remember to keep moving throughout your day.