Working from Home – Ergonomics are Key
Working from home due to the Coronavirus pandemic sounded like an easy task for many, but people have realized there is more to it that simply flipping open your laptop and signing on to the internet. As a physical therapist, I have talked with several patients about newly acquired pains they are experiencing since their new home office jobs have begun. There are a few things to think about to achieve an ergonomically correct home working computer setup and I will outline them below.
Working from home can create challenges to include getting sucked into your work and stuck in one place for too long, having poor ergonomics, becoming easily distracted, not setting time limits on your work and finding a good location for your set up. You can take some easy steps to avoid these common problems. Although laptops can be great, as they are portable and easy to use, they are not ideal for long term desk work. Poor posture and repetitive fatigue are common issues. If you place the laptop on a desk or table at the correct height for the arms and wrists, it is not in the right position for the neck, shoulders and back. On the other hand, if you place it at the perfect height for the eyes, then this is great for the neck, back and shoulders, but not so good for the arms and wrists. These problems can be easily remedied at a reasonable price with a little bit of ingenuity.
Designating a location
The first thing to consider when working from home is a good workspace. This space should be one that you can designate for your office or workstation set up if you have enough room in your home. This makes it easy in that you can sign on and off of your computer and open up or shut down without having to put in extra time every day. This also means that you can “go to work” and have some separation between home and work. You definitely don’t want your computer set up in your bedroom, as this is the place you are to sleep. It could make it difficult to go to sleep as knowing the computer is right there it may be difficult to turn off your brain at night so you can get a good night’s sleep. You also want to place the computer at a place that will not have glare on the screen. If you can help it, do not have a bright window too close behind you, or have the monitor facing into a window. Using blinds or curtains can be helpful with this. You also want to make sure you have good lighting so you can see what you are doing with desktop and reading tasks that aren’t computer related.
Going to work
In the morning, before you “go to work,” shower and get dressed, just as if you are “going out” to work. Working in your pajamas does not put you in the right mindset to do your work, nor is it good for a video call. Once working, know that it is also easy to get caught up in your work and before you know it you have been working a good part of the day. Remember to break for lunch! It is also important to take breaks every 45 minutes or so as sitting too long can result in poor circulation to joints and muscles. It can also create an imbalance in strength and flexibility of certain muscles, and muscle strain. Get out of your chair several times a day and move around, roll your shoulders backwards, turn your head from side to side and stretch out your forearms and your legs. You can also take a quick walk around the block too. This can help to rejuvenate your brain by increasing blood flow and getting some outdoor oxygen. Studies have shown you are more efficient doing this than if you were to sit and work all day. It is also important to stay hydrated. Sipping on water all day will also remind you to get up and take breaks, if you know what I mean.
It is important to find your natural posture so your workstation can be set up around this. If your posture is poor to start with, learning some tips about good posture will help you to work with less chance of injury. Finding a comfortable adjustable height office chair is imperative, as your feet should touch the ground completely while your knees are at a level height with your hips. The chair should also twist freely on it’s wheeled base. Adjustable armrests are good, as they allow you to relax the shoulders while using your keyboard. Height of the chair is important, as your feet should touch the ground completely while your knees are at a level height with the hips.
Next, place the laptop on the desk or table in front of you. Most likely, the screen will be much further below your eyes than it should be. A good rule of thumb is that your monitor should be high enough so your eyes are at the top of the screen, unless you wear bifocals or progressive lenses. In these cases it should be a little bit lower. To accomplish this, a stack of books can be placed under your laptop. The screen should sit about an arm’s length away from you. You will find examples of proper positioning for a laptop as well as a desktop computer.
An external keyboard can be attached to make your laptop function more like a desktop. If the chair is positioned correctly for your legs and feet and the keyboard is placed on the desk, it may be too high for you, causing abnormal positions of the arms, wrists and shoulders. Ideally, the keyboard and mouse should roughly be shoulder-width apart, which limits the amount of repetitive internal and external shoulder rotation. The wrists and forearms should also be straight (with the elbows bent), which reduces loads across the wrist joints. Angling or sloping the keyboard can also help with achieving the optimal position. Depending on the desk or working area height, you may have to get creative. If the working area is too high or low, then you might need to place a cushion in your lap with a tray and keyboard and mouse on it to achieve the ideal working position.
If you need further help, give us a call at Dynamic Bracing and Physical Therapy. We are experts at modifying work stations to increase efficiency and prevent or relieve pain. Additionally, if you are experiencing pain that isn’t relieved by modifications to your work station, we can also help develop a treatment plan to relieve your pain and improve your mobility.