Neck and shoulder pain from working hunched over your laptop? Wrist and elbow pain from typing on your couch? Low back aches and pains from using the dining room chair to work? You are not alone!!! The East York Therapy team has received numerous emails and phone calls regarding these nagging and sometimes debilitating discomforts that result from ergonomically incorrect workstations during the coronavirus quarantine.
Well, the East York Therapy team is here to advise you with some helpful tips to help create an ergonomically correct home workstation. Simple tweaks to your posture and work space can help prevent headaches, repetitive strain injuries such as "tennis and golfer's elbow", and conditions such as neck, shoulder and low back pain.
First, let's start with desk height. Your desk should ideally let you type on a keyboard with your arms and hands roughly parallel to the floor, your feet flat on the floor, and your legs fitting comfortably under the desk when sitting. If you take a look at Erin in the picture above, she gets check marks for all of the above. Erin does not have the ideal desk height, but she improvises by using a pillow and wireless keyboard so that her arms and wrists are parallel to the floor. If she tries to use the laptop keyboard she will have too much bend in her elbows and hyperextend her wrist leading to pains that can be felt in the wrist or outside area of the elbow. Other ways to modify your workstation, if your desk doesn't support this posture, is to invest in a keyboard tray, use a footrest so that your feet are flat on the floor, put the desk on risers, or simply try adjusting your chair's seat height.
Ok so we have tackled the desk. On to the chair. We don't expect anyone to go out and buy an ergonomically correct chair nor do we have any advice on what is a good one. What we can do is offer some tips on what to look for in an ergonomic office chair and you can either improvise with things in your home to get as close as you can or buy one.
- Lumbar support: The curve in the back of the chair should support your lower spine, following the natural curve of your lower back. You could roll up a towel or use a cushion
- Seat depth: while seated with your back against the chair comfortably, see if you have three- or four-fingers' width distance between your legs and the edge of the seat.
- Chair height: You should be able to adjust the height of the chair so your feet are flat on the floor or on a foot rest.
- Arm rests: Armrests should be at the proper height so your shoulders aren't hunched and you can keep your arms parallel to the floor.
- Recline-ability: Reclining in your chair, at about 135 degrees, may be better for your spine than sitting straight up at a 90 degree angle.
In the picture above Erin has done the best she could with her dining room chair by using a cushion as lumbar support. She has about a 4 finger depth between the edge of chair and legs and can recline back past 90 as desired.
Proper monitor placement is important too. Improper monitor height can lead to eye strain, headaches, improper posture which can result in, tight upper traps, shoulder problems, neck/upper back pain and more. Below are some guidelines for proper monitor placement:
- Keep your monitor or laptop screen between 20 and 40 inches in front of you. When the monitor is too far away, the temptation is to lean forward leading to forward head postures, neck pain, and tight upper traps which can cause tension headaches. You should be able to read your screen while maintaining a comfortable proper posture. Zoom in if the text is still too small at the appropriate distance.
- The top line of the screen should be at or below your eye level. If the monitor is too high, you'll be forced to strain your head, neck, and back. At the same time, your downward viewing angle to see the entire screen shouldn't be greater than 60 degrees.
- Don't tilt the monitor more than 10 to 20 degrees as this may make text difficult to read.
- Place the monitor perpendicular to windows. This will help avoid glare.
Erin again improvises nicely to bring her monitor up to a more ideal eye level. Maybe one more book could have helped....lol.
KEYBOARD AND MOUSE
We have not forgot about the keyboard and mouse.
Your keyboard should be placed close enough to your body so that your elbows rest comfortably by your sides. As mentioned in the desk section, your keyboard should be low enough that your forearms are roughly parallel to the floor and your wrists are neutral or angled downwards.
If you find you are typing with a hyperextended wrist (hand is bent up towards the ceiling), a way to correct that is to get a keyboard stand or tray that positions the keyboard pointing downwards. A wrist support for your keyboard and mouse will also provide more comfort and prevent your wrists from bending up. Try rolling up a small rag so the wrists bend slightly downwards and see the difference!!!
When using a laptop it is more difficult to get the ideal screen and keyboard placement at the same time. So as indicated earlier, Erin has paired a wireless keyboard with her laptop on a pillow or she could have used a stand.
PRACTICE GOOD POSTURE AND KEEP IT MOVING
Incorporate frequent stretch breaks and walk around hourly!! Be aware of your posture by sitting up straight, shoulders back and referring to your list above. We know it is difficult to get up every hour, especially when you have just found your work groove, but trust us, you will thank yourself later!!! As Erin loves to say: MOTION IS LOTION!!!
We do hope this helps!