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A lot more people are working from home these days. For many, it brings to mind images of relaxing on the couch while working. Few realize the importance of creating an ergonomic home office until they’re in pain.
The image below was found by searching “working from home” on a popular image sharing site. If this is how you’ve been working from home, you may notice you have some new aches and pains. Your neck and back may be aching. Your wrists may hurt as well. Maybe you’re having headaches.
Don’t wait until you’re in severe pain to ask yourself: Is your workspace helping or hurting you? Are you working productively? Or is working from home slowly crippling you?
(By the way, this article applies to children who are homeschooling as well.)
If the decision to work from home was a sudden one, you probably didn’t give much thought to ergonomics. You set up your computer where you could and got to work.
Most people don’t realize that the workspace provided by an employer is designed with ergonomics in mind. Ergonomics draws on many disciplines to optimize the interaction between you and the work environment. Ergonomics is how you and your workspace interact.
When your home office isn’t set up with ergonomics in mind, eventually you’ll experience:
Poor office posture injuries are repetitive use injuries.
Notice the word “eventually” above. You see, the human body is great at “making do” with whatever situation you put it in. This means, the first time you flop down on your couch to work, your body isn’t going to scream at you to stop. Instead, it will do its best to adapt.
However, if you continue to put stress on your back, neck, shoulders, elbows and wrists with poor office posture, eventually you’ll experience the aches and pains described above.
It’s not just people who work from home who can suffer from these injuries. Anyone who works in an office is susceptible to these repetitive use injuries. However, if you’re working from home and you haven’t set up your home office with ergonomics in mind, then you’re even more susceptible to these types of injuries.
Employers invest in trying to optimize workplace ergonomics because they want to increase productivity while decreasing injury and illness. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2013, musculoskeletal disorders cases accounted for 33% of all worker injury and illness cases. 1
Home Office Ergonomics Can Prevent Musculoskeletal Disorders
Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders are among the most frequently reported causes of lost or restricted work time. These include:
- carpal tunnel syndrome (wrist pain)
- tarsal tunnel syndrome (ankle/foot pain)
- pinched nerves
- herniated disks (back/neck pain)
- rotator cuff injuries (shoulder pain)
- epicondylitis (elbow pain)
- trigger finger (finger pain)
- muscle sprains, strains and tears
- mid back pain
- low back injuries
- neck pain
These Musculoskeletal Disorders have one thing in common. They all have symptoms of pain, swelling, and numbness.
Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders are often caused by :
- repetitive motion involving microtasks
- being rubbed, abraded, or jarred by vibration.
Creating an Ergonomic Home Office
You can reduce your risk of illness or injury by keeping workspace ergonomics in mind as you set up your home office.
Create an ergonomic home office by focusing on these key elements.
#1: Choosing The Proper Chair
It’s well worth the investment to purchase a quality chair. Keep in mind you will be spending 8 to 15 hours a day sitting as you work.
Don’t be fooled by clever marketing. The term “ergonomic chair” is used loosely at best and is lying at worst. Instead focus on finding a chair that fits you properly. If you are tall or short you may need to spend some extra time to find that perfect chair. One advantage to outfitting your home office is you can purchase the best chair for your body.
The height of the chair is paramount. You should be able to adjust your chair so your feet a flat on the floor and your legs are parallel to the floor. Tilts are helpful to get that angle just right.
The backrest of your office chair should be separate from the seat. You should also make sure you can adjustable the height and angle. Be sure the chair supports the natural curve of the spine. Pay close attention to the lumbar region of the chair. Make sure your chair offers proper support in the curve of your back.
What about Exercise Ball Office Chairs? While an exercise ball is great for working out, it is not your friend as an office chair. For most people, the height of the ball is not suitable for desk work. (See the image above for proper positioning.) While it’s good to exercise your core, these exercises should only be done for a short period of time, not for an entire 8-hour workday.
#2: Choosing the Proper Keyboard/Mouse
Many office workers suffer from tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive strain injuries caused by poorly designed keyboards and mice or positioning.
Finding the right keyboard and mouse is difficult because there is no “one size fits all” product or solution. While there’s no one product that is right for everyone, there are things to keep in mind to help you find the perfect match!
- Distance: Proper sitting posture dictates where you should place your keyboard.
- Angle: The keyboard should have a slight negative angle of about 15 degrees
- Height: Your posture and desk height dictates the correct height of your keyboard and mouse
- Mouse: the most important thing is make sure you don’t twist your wrist while using the mouse
What about Wrist rests?
Often a wrist rest is used as a support rather than a rest. It should only be used, ideally, when a sharp or hard surface is present that you are constantly coming into contact.
#3 Laptop: Ergonomic Friend or Foe
Unfortunately, your laptop is an ergonomic foe! Laptop computers are much more convenient and portable than desktop varieties. However, it’s the ability to use your laptop anywhere that makes it an ergonomic foe! Using it while in bed or while seated on the sofa is a recipe for neck, shoulder and back pain. In addition, the keyboard is flat which means your wrists won’t be properly positioned.
If you must use a laptop computer, don’t use the laptop’s keyboard and mouse pad. Instead, purchase an ergonomic keyboard and mouse and attach them to your laptop just as you would to a desktop. Place the laptop on a flat surface and position the screen to the proper height. (See the illustration above.) When you do this, you will find it very uncomfortable to use the laptop’s keyboard/mouse.
#4: Using the Phone
Do Not Cradle Your Phone!
If you are on the phone and typing, cradling the phone between your ear and shoulder can be hazardous to your neck. Cradling the phone can lead to neck spasm, headaches and ear pain.
Using speakerphone is the fastest and easiest solution. If using your phone’s speakerphone isn’t an option, invest in a good headset. It will literally save your neck!
#5 Choosing a Desk
Height is by far most important factor in choosing a desk for your ergonomic home office. The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) recommends a general height desk of 28.7″ plus or minus 1″.
Many people work from home from their dining table. Standard dining table heights are 28″ – 30″so it’s possible your dining table is the proper desk height. It’s also possible that your dining table is just a bit too tall or short. In the Work From Home Office Ergonomics illustration above, make sure your arm rest allows your elbow to be at a 90° angle while working at your table. If not, shoulder, wrist, neck and back pain can result.
#6: Positioning Your Monitor
- Distance: Your monitor should be set up 20 inches away or at arm’s length
- Elevation: The top of the screen should be at or slightly below eye level. The monitor should be directly behind your keyboard. If you wear bifocals, lower the monitor an additional 1 to 2 inches for more comfortable viewing.Tilting your head back to try to read your monitor can lead to headaches and neck pain.
- Angle: 10-20 degrees A greater angle will cause you to hold your head at an uncomfortable angle, leading to neck strain.
- Glare: Glare on your screen causes eye strain. Placing your monitor and desk perpendicular to the window works best. Whatever kind of lighting you use, position the monitor so that there is no distracting glare.
Footrests are a way to shift postures or provide support for the feet if the chair cannot be lowered. Unfortunately, using a footrest when the chair is too high provides only one place for the feet to rest.
- Height: Footrests should be adjustable. Adjust the footrest until the thighs are parallel to the floor +/- 1-3 inches.
- Rocking: When using a footrest, be sure to shift postures frequently. The rocking action on all-plastic footrests tends to wear out quickly, so look for durable models.
Chiropractic Care Can Help!
If you haven’t set up an ergonomic home office, you may already be feeling the effects. Sometimes simply changing your workspace can help alleviate your pain. If it doesn’t, gentle chiropractic care can help. Chiropractic care focuses on treating all of your joints and muscles. If you work on a computer all day, be sure to ask Dr. Danielle about adjusting your wrist.