The COVID-19 pandemic has millions of more people working from home than ever before. Out of all these workers adapting to their new work environments, most do not have workstations that are set up with the proper ergonomics necessary to minimize postural stresses and the physical complaints that occur as a result. They are using their laptop computers while sitting on the couch, at the kitchen table, or in bed for hours at a time, resulting in more stress being put on the neck and back which contributes to poor posture and posture-related injuries.
Most companies that have transitioned their workforce to work from home have done so with no instruction or training on workstation ergonomics and posture. One study showed that out of 500 college students that used computers for prolonged periods of time only 4 reported no neck pain, whereas 496 (99.2%) had neck pain. Of these, 329 (65.8%) of them had disabilities due to neck pain. (1) Another study found that more than 80% of people using computers for more than 4 hours develop low back pain. (2) Though not as prevalent as neck and low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome is another condition that can occur because of the repetitive stress of a workstation that is not set up properly.
When setting up your home workstation, it is important that you create an environment that is ergonomically correct. Do not use your couch, bed, or kitchen table as your workstation. Your desk must fit you properly to help you work efficiently and protect your posture. If it is in your budget, a sit/stand desk is highly recommended as it allows you to change positions while promoting proper posture. You must also use an office chair that is designed for this task. Your dining room chair, barstool, and couch do not fit the necessary requirements for your workstation.
Here are a few more tips to help you boost productivity and protect your posture, whether working from home or returning to the office:
- Your computer monitor should be 18 to 24 inches from your eyes.
- The top of your monitor should be at eye level and the monitor should be slightly tilted upward.
- Your office chair should have a backrest with properly fitting lumbar support, adjustable height, and armrests.
- Adjust the height of your chair so your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Your feet should be parallel to the floor, utilizing a footrest if necessary.
- Shoulders should be relaxed with your forearms parallel to the floor.
- There should be minimal bend in your wrists while using the keyboard.
- Your head should be upright and balanced over your shoulders and shoulders over your hips.
- Your knees, hips, and elbows should be at an angle from 90 to 120 degrees.
- Take adequate breaks. You should get to walk around and stretch for 5 minutes every 25 minutes that you are sitting at your desk.
- Use a Fitbit, Apple Watch, or step counter to help ensure you get enough movement in your day.
- Consider investing in a treadmill desk if you anticipate working from home on an indefinite basis.
I hope these suggestions help you make the most of your work-from-home situation and minimize the probability of neck and back pain that is so common in this type of situation.