Working from home has its perks but you find yourself missing the strangest things. An ergonomic assessment may be one of them.
Ergonomics means designing your workspace to prevent injuries. If your screen, desk or chair are at the wrong level, you may find that your posture shifts and you’re stretching to reach the keyboard. That can cause many musculoskeletal problems including back pain, a stiff neck and sore wrists.
You might be working from home for a while longer. That’s why it’s important to spend a bit of time arranging your workspace properly. You should also take regular movement breaks to relieve muscle tension and reduce the overall risks of a sedentary lifestyle.
Working From Home? Create an Ergonomic Workspace
Like many people, you suddenly found yourself working from home a few weeks ago to slow the spread of COVID-19.
It happened quite quickly and left no opportunity to create a stylish and ergonomic workspace. You grabbed the last mouse available in Officeworks and made do with your laptop on the dining room table – until schools closed and you moved an old camping table into your bedroom to create an ‘office’.
A few weeks and a thousand Zoom meetings later, your upper body is aching and your head is throbbing. Why? The answer could be poor ergonomics.
What Is Ergonomics?
Ergonomics is the study of people in their working environment. In an office environment, it involves assessing your workspace to ensure you’re able to sit or stand properly and work without straining your body.
What Are the Risks of Poor Ergonomics?
COVID-19 has been an interesting time for physiotherapists. We’ve seen fewer people with sports injuries as competitive sports are cancelled for now but we’ve seen far more people dealing with pain in their neck, back or wrists.
You spend many hours working. If you rely on a computer, you’re regularly typing, moving a mouse, looking at a screen, sitting (or slouching) in a chair and finding somewhere to rest your feet.
If you’re spending many hours a day in a position that strains your body, you’ll start noticing musculoskeletal problems like pain, tingling and muscle fatigue. It’s a sign that you need to change your workspace to protect your body.
How Do I Create an Ergonomic Workspace at Home?
If you’re going to be spending many hours working at home, you need to create a proper space that allows you to do your work and support your body.
It’s largely about having things at the right height so that you don’t need to strain yourself.
- Screen: Your eyes should be level with the top of your screen. If you’re using a laptop, place it on a stand until you can look into the screen without tilting your head. You can buy a purpose-designed laptop stand that lets you adjust the height or you can find an old box that does the same job.
- Keyboard: Your laptop keyboard is now up in the air, meaning you need to buy a separate keyboard that sits flat on your desk or slopes gently away from you (negative tilt). Your elbows should be open at about 90 degrees and your wrists straight.If your chair is too high (or your desk is too low), you’ll find yourself straightening your elbows and stretching your wrists to type. If your chair is too low (or your desk too high), you might notice your shoulders shrugged up to your ears and your elbows lower than your wrists. Eventually, your wrists will hurt.
- Mouse: You use your mouse endlessly when working at a computer. An ergonomic mouse can reduce the risk of repetitive strain injury and carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Chair: The right chair supports your lower back (lumbar region) and allows you to keep your forearms and thighs parallel to the floor. Good posture is important but hard to maintain. It’s worth checking yourself every 15 minutes to see if you’re slouching. Another option is to sit on a yoga ball or balance ball chair to align your spine and activate your core muscles while you work.
- Footrest: Your thighs should be parallel to the floor and your feet should be flat on it. If putting your chair at the right height for your desk leaves your feet dangling in the air, then you need a footrest. That can be anything from a milk crate to a fancy purpose-built footrest – anything works as long as your thighs stay parallel to the floor and your feet rest firmly on the footrest.
- Desk: Your desk doesn’t need to be fancy. The dining room table is actually fine if you’ve raised the height of your screen, found a supportive chair and got a footrest if you need one. The breakfast bar is not ideal because you won’t have anywhere to rest your feet. You can get a standing desk or a desk riser that sits on top of your desk. These give you the option of standing up to work, avoiding some of the strains of a sedentary life.
What Else Should I Do to Protect Myself?
Even with a carefully designed ergonomic workspace, it’s still not ideal to spend many hours sitting at a desk each day. It’s important to get up and move around regularly. That means a quick stretch every 10 minutes and a 2-5 minute break every 30-60 minutes.
- Walking around the room whenever you’re on the phone
- Rotating your shoulders
- Moving your neck from side to side
- Tucking your chin in
- Moving your shoulders down and back
- Stretching your shoulders by holding your hands together in front of your neck with your elbows bent then trying to pull them apart
- Dropping and shaking your arms
- Fanning your fingers then clenching them into a fist
- Flexing your wrist by gently pressing your fingers back
- Circling your ankles then clenching and releasing your toes.
As always, overall fitness helps prevent injuries. So, when you finish work for the day, do something active before you settle onto the sofa. Go for a walk, a jog or a bike ride. That regular physical exercise works wonders.
How Can Southport Central Physio & Sports Injury Clinic Help?
If you’re noticing back pain, neck pain, wrist pain or think that working at home may be hurting you in some other way, then please come and see us. We can assess your symptoms and recommend ways to relieve muscle strain and prevent further injury.
We’re all dealing with COVID-19 for the long haul. That means you might be working from home for a while. It’s important that you’re properly set up to maximise your effectiveness and protect yourself from injury.