Let’s face it—working from home can be a real pain in the neck, or back, or hand, as it may be. The reason? Poor office setups can lead to repetitive stress injuries such as pinched nerves, carpel tunnel syndrome, chronic headaches, eye strain, and persistent musculo-skeletal problems.
But it doesn’t have to be. With a few changes to your home office environment, you can reduce your risk for aches and pains, and increase your energy level, too. And best of all, you don’t have to invest hundreds of dollars in designer office chairs to do it. All it takes is an eye to your workplace ergonomics.
Ergonomics is complicated term for a simple concept—the study of how a person works in their environment. And over the years, we’ve used ergonomics to determine the ideal angle of all your limbs and joints for working at a computer. The key is to mimic those angles when you’re working from home, just like you would with your professionally designed desk at the office. Here’s my go-to-tips:
Make your chair conform to you.
According to Suzanne Farnan-Maddux, OTR/L, CDRS, at Frazier Rehabilitation Institute’s new Jeffersontown outpatient rehab facility, “Any chair that provides lumbar support and allows you to sit with 90 degrees at your hips and 90 degrees at your knees is a great start for good back health.”
If you don’t have the luxury of buying an office chair, retrofit a kitchen chair with a lower lumbar support, even if you have to roll up a bath towel. And if the seat is uncomfortable, try adding a memory foam chair pad.
Desk height matters.
“A work surface that allows the elbows to be 1-2 inches below where the hands rest when typing,” said Farnan-Maddux. “This keeps the weight off your wrists. A keyboard gel pad also allows for a soft placement. And being able to position yourself, where the elbows are at your side will also assist with body position.”
By eliminating reaching to type, leaning back while working on the computer, and/or having wrists bent while working will prevent discomfort or a repetitive injury from occurring.
Mind your monitors.
The top of your monitor should be at eye level, or slightly lower for bifocal wearers, and should be 18 to 36 inches away from the user (about an arms-length.)
Be smart with your adaptations.
“Finding an appropriate work space and figuring out how to set it up ergonomically at home can be a challenge,” said Farnan-Maddux.
When you’re working from home, it’s tempting to work from the bed or the sofa with your laptop. Make sure you have a proper tray or stand that keeps your monitor and hand height where they need to be. If you’re working with a laptop on a regular desk or table, we recommend hooking in a separate keyboard and mouse, to protect your wrists. If you’re working from a standing desk, make yourself a little ledge where you can prop up one foot from time to time, to relieve back pressure.
Contact one of Frazier Rehab Institute’s physical or occupational therapists to discuss your work environment and any associated chronic pain before it becomes a problem. To schedule an appointment with one of our outpatient therapy clinics, call 502-582-7406 or talk with your primary care provider. For more information about Frazier Rehab Institute, visit UofLHealth.org.