If you are reading this article you are probably one of the millions of people who are now working from home due to coronavirus (Covid-19).
Generally, we have less specialist working equipment at home such as office chairs and desks, which can leave us susceptible to musculoskeletal disorders such as back pain. This is due to long periods of sitting in positions that are not optimal for your body or what we call ‘ergonomic’.
Whatever your circumstances there are some basic principles that you can follow to get yourself set up with a good ergonomic home office space, which will help you to reduce pain, avoid injury, keep productivity up and to stay happy and healthy.
Are you sitting comfortably?
It’s important that you are sitting in an ergonomic position:
1. You should be sitting upright
2. Knees should be in-line with your hips at a 90-degree angle
3. Feet should be flat on the floor and in-line with your knees – you should not be on tiptoes or crossing your legs
4. Your back and neck should be straight – not bent or hunched over
5. Shoulders should be in-line with your hips
You may benefit from making small adjustments with things like pillows or rolled towels to get you into the correct position. For example, if you need some support for your lumbar spine to keep you upright or a pillow under your feet if you are too high to place them on the floor.
Is your screen in the right position?
Once you are sitting correctly in the above position, then you should make sure that the top of your screen is in-line with your eyes.
You can achieve this by putting a shoebox or books underneath your laptop if you do not have a separate display screen.
Making sure that your display screen equipment is in the right position is important for preventing poor posture and neck strain that can lead to pain and injury.
Have you got accessories and equipment?
We recommend using an external mouse and keyboard which can be plugged into the USB ports on your laptop.
Using a mouse and a keyboard can reduce the strain on your wrists and hands and can help you to achieve the ideal ergonomic posture you should be working towards.
Have you got the right lighting?
You should aim for natural sunlight where possible or a similar effect with home lighting or a desk lamp.
The light shouldn’t be directly facing you or glaring as this can make you squint and alter your posture as a result.
It might be tempting to work in the garden or a sunny spot in the window, but you should be mindful of working around direct sunlight and straining your vision or posture because of this.
Are you making a lot of phone calls on your mobile?
If you are used to using a desk phone or office headset for regular calls, then working from home may mean you are using a mobile instead.
Talking on a mobile phone for long periods can lead to neck strain on one side, so you should talk on speakerphone, or try using a headset or earphones instead.
Are you moving regularly?
Without your usual commute to the office, travelling between your desk at work to meetings or going out to grab lunch, your movement is significantly reduced working from home.
You must make the effort to move every 30 minutes, even if it’s just small movements. Try setting a timer on your phone and doing some stretches.
Make the most of your home environment and try to build movement into your work – for example pacing the room while you are on the phone.
Many people also benefit from doing 15 minutes of exercise or stretching in the morning before they start work and at the end of the day when they finish.
This can keep you physically healthy but can also help you to mentally switch on and off from your working day despite being in the same home environment 24/7.
Can you work standing up?
You could also try working standing up or moving between a seated and standing position.
If you do this make sure that your laptop and screen are at the correct height – so with the top of your screen in-line with your eyes.
This is commonly done in workplaces with sit to stand desks and can be recreated at home.
Do you have your set-up in the right area of your home?
It really helps if you can create an office space or area in the home that is your own.
Take the time to set things up. Get the ergonomic posture you need, plug in any wires or chargers and keep them tidy, and remove any clutter around you.
Many people won’t have a spare room or office, but if you have family working and living under the same roof it could be beneficial to move out of the living area.
For example, you could move to the kitchen table or a bedroom if you have a dressing table or desk that can be used there.
What to do if you don’t have the right office furniture or equipment
Ideally, you should be sitting on a chair and in front of a table or a desk.
You could also try working standing up if this is an option that is available to you.
If you need to sit on the sofa due to lack of other equipment or furniture, then try these tips:
- Do not lie-down on the sofa.
- Make sure you are sitting upright and working towards the same ergonomic position – so sitting with your feet flat on the floor and your back straight.
- You may benefit from having a pillow behind your back to keep you in an upright position.
- Try to follow the same principles with the height of your display screen equipment as best as you can – for example by placing a tray or box in-between your lap and the laptop.
You should avoid working from your bed lying down at all costs if you can.
If you must work on a sofa or a bed, then make sure you take extra regular breaks to stretch and stand up – as much as every 10-15 minutes.
What to do if you are in pain or struggling with working from home
You do not need to put up with pain or discomfort working from home.
If you are having difficulties achieving the right ergonomic set-up or are experiencing pain, such as back or neck pain, then you can speak to one of our physiotherapists today using our videocall technology through the Ascenti Physio app.
We will be able to provide you with professional advice and a work station assessment as part of your video appointment.
We will also be able to make recommendations that you can share with your employer and will prescribe you with a treatment plan, which will include personalised exercises and advice that you can follow using the same app on your phone.