While politics and societal issues polarize us, one thing we can all agree on is that working from home blurs the lines between our work and personal lives. We may have successfully transitioned to working from home, but many of us have developed neck or back pain, headaches, wrist pain or fatigue.
Consider the following:
Injuries resulting from poor workspace or office setup are very prevalent, with about 80% of office workers reporting work-related aches and pains. It is estimated that over 30% of those injuries are preventable through better and smarter desk/ergonomic design.
Aches, pains, fatigue, eye strain and work burnout all impact our work performance.
Working with proper posture is good for our bodies; optimal alignment improves our circulation, allows nutrients to reach all of our tissues, and prevents the development of muscle aches and pains associated with awkward or bad postures.
Steps for a Successful Work-From-Home Day
A few small steps can mitigate risks and make your workday more enjoyable and successful. While every home office or workspace is unique, these steps will start you on the road for success:
1. Create a Single Dedicated Space in Your Home to Work. When we work from our bed or dining room table, the distractions are much more frequent and pervasive, and the impact on work-life balance greater. Attempt to find a space that is close to natural light and away from noise in order to improve focus. In addition, personalizing the space with a family photo or plant will bring positive distractions and limit feelings of burnout and fatigue.
2. Change It Up. Our bodies are not designed to be stationary for prolonged periods of time. A good rule of thumb is to break up every 30 minutes into 20 minutes of sitting, 8 minutes of standing and 2 minutes of changing positions or moving around.
Just like the rest of our bodies, our eyes are also not designed to be stationary for long. Follow the 20-20-20 rule: Look at something 20 feet away from you every 20 minutes, for 20 seconds. This will help you avert eye strain and avoid headaches, blurry vision and general eye discomfort
3. Stretch. Stretch the parts of your body most vulnerable to getting tight and achy, including your neck and shoulders, lower back, wrists and hamstrings
4. Get Creative. Be thoughtful when setting up your space. You don’t need to invest in expensive equipment or get the most up-to-date gadgets. A simple rolled-up towel can function as a lumbar support, a sturdy box under your feet can function as a footrest, textbooks under your monitor can raise its height to eye level, and voice-to-text options on your phone or computer can give your wrists a break
Tips for Computer Users
Most of us need to use a computer for the majority of our working hours. If that includes you, your desk and chair setup is critical. Find yourself an ergonomic chair that has an adjustable seat and adjustable armrests. While lying in bed with your laptop on your stomach may sound like a nice work setup, your neck will suffer. Avoid using a laptop without an external mouse and keyboard. For more assistance, follow these tips:
Keep feet flat on the floor and sit all the way against the back of the chair. Use a footrest and lumbar (back) support or towel roll if needed.
Make sure you have two fingers width between the back of your knees (area of high circulation) and the seat pan, and between the sides of your thighs and armrests.
Adjust armrests to a level where your arms and shoulders can be supported and relaxed.
Place the mouse and keyboard close to your body so you can avoid needing to repetitively reach or twist. You may need to raise the height of your chair and use a footrest to accomplish this.
Place your monitor an arms-length away and centered in front of you. The top third of the monitor should be at eye level to avoid prolonged looking up or down and the development of neck pain. This may be slightly different for those who use bifocal lenses.
Maintain neutral positions for your wrists and keep your elbows, hips and knees at approximately 90 degrees.
Although adhering to all these guidelines may feel unnatural at first, the goal is to avoid aches and pains and unnecessary strain on the more vulnerable parts of your body in the long run. Even for those who will be returning to their places of work in the near future, working from home has become a viable option and thus its design needs to be approached through a lens that promotes health, quality of life and provides a clear distinction between what is work and what is personal.
Aharon Bauman, PT, DPT, is the clinical director and owner of Spire Home Therapy LLC, a mobile physical therapy practice that provides physical therapy services in patients’ homes and places of work in Northern NJ. For more information or to schedule a physical therapy appointment or home office design consult, visit www.spirehometherapy.com or call (973) 506-9049.