Millions of Americans have been working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a result, people have converted spaces in their homes into home offices and are working in less than optimal ergonomic conditions. Maintaining a “neutral spine” is most important for your muscles and comfort. A neutral spine is not one that is perfectly straight. It is an S-shape that naturally curves from your neck to your lower back. As you set up your workspace, focus on how your back feels and keep adjusting until things feel natural, not strained.
The definition of ergonomics is “an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely.”
Below are some helpful tips to design a workspace that is both efficient and safe.
Create a Comfortable Workstation.
Working on your laptop for 40+ hours per week can lead to back, shoulder, and neck strain. Find a height for your workstation that allows your elbows to naturally fall flush with your table/desk height. If possible, use an external monitor, laptop stand or books to prop up your screen. A “hi-low” desk is a great option; it adjusts your workspace to the ideal height and allows you to sit and stand comfortably throughout the day.
When looking at the computer screen, your eye line should be level with the address bar on your web browser. Your monitor should be at least an arms length away, allowing you to view the entire screen without having to move your head from left to right. Ideally an external keyboard and mouse should also be used and be close enough to prevent excessive reaching which strains the shoulders and arms. This will promote better wrist alignment rather than impingement or carpal tunnel stress.
Place your feet on a few books or boxes under your desk so that your thighs are nearly parallel to the floor and your hips are slightly higher than your knees. This will reduce stress on your lumbar spine.
Use a Comfortable Chair.
An office chair is best because the adjustable features on the chair will save you from lumbar and neck pain. However, you can also modify your existing chair with some common items found around the home. Putting a firm cushion or tightly folded towel under your buttocks will raise your hips and increase the curve of your spine, making sitting more comfortable. Also consider purchasing an orthopedic seat cushion for added comfort. I use one both at home and in the office, and it helps take pressure off the lower spine and buttocks.
Follow the 20/20/20 Rule.
For every 20 minutes spent looking at a computer screen, you should spend 20 seconds looking at something else 20 feet away. This gives your eye muscles a break and helps reduce eye strain. Using glasses with tinted lenses is helpful to minimize screen glare and eye fatigue.
Get Up and Move Around Throughout the Day.
“Sitting is the new smoking.” It is important to get up, stretch, and move around to get blood flowing and give your body and mind a break from sitting all day. Some quick and easy exercises to do throughout the day: neck stretch, hip flexor stretches, jumping jacks, planks, foam rolling, touch your toes, squats, run in place, bridges, run/walk up and down stairs, or quickly walk or run around the outside of the house a few times.
Proper Phone Use.
Talking on the phone with the receiver wedged between the neck and ear is bad practice and causes unnecessary strain on your neck, back and shoulders. A simple solution is to place the phone on speaker or use headphones/earbuds while spending extended periods of time on the phone.
In conclusion, designing a home workspace that works best for you is what’s most important. There is no right or wrong way except making sure you are comfortable and not adding undue stress to your body while working all day. These tips hold true for in-office as well.