28 Jan Ergonomics for Work From Home
How’s work from home going for you? Are you noticing some new aches and pains that you never had while working in your office? Is sitting at the kitchen table or on a wooden stool starting to cramp your style? And your neck and back?
Have you heard of ergonomics?
Ergonomics was probably not part of the conversation with your home decorator or the guy at Ikea when you did it yourself. Chances are someone at your old office considered your ergonomic set-up when they purchased your desk, chair, keyboard, mouse pads, monitor and other equipment you use every day.
Now that you work from home — and may continue to through the spring and beyond — you should consider a few things.
The equipment you use, how you use it, and how you treat your body throughout a workday affect the way your body is going to feel at the end of the day. A professional ergonomic assessment or just a few tweaks can save you from short-term pain or even long-term complications.
What is Ergonomics?
An ergonomic evaluation of your remote workplace is a detailed assessment of your equipment and how it fits you. Traditionally, ergonomics was the domain of engineers who designed equipment to fit the average user and also adjust to larger and smaller people too.
A common school of thought was that all workplace repetitive stress injuries were caused by the equipment. As a result, all of the solutions were focused on installing better tools.
Physical therapists, occupational therapists, and other movement specialists had different ideas about that. These specialists began evaluating ergonomics because they were the ones who were treating the people with workplace injuries.
Ergonomics isn’t only about the user interface, it’s also about the user.
The way you work at your workstation increases or reduces your chance of getting injured at work. A workstation can be a computer on a desk, a shipping room at a warehouse, an assembly line, or a postal truck. The USPS even has an ergonomics section in their employee manual and full-time ergonomic specialists who work to reduce injury risks with equipment improvement initiatives and employee training.
The Ergonomic Desk Chair
If you work on a computer at home most of the day, you probably sit a lot. You better have a decent chair and your ergonomic chair should have all of the following features:
- 5 caster wheels
- Ability to rotate
- Pneumatic lift/lower
- A comfortable seat – consider mesh for ventilation
- 2 adjustable arms
- A stiff backrest with the option to release or soften the pressure to allow moderate recline; tension adjustment is an optional feature
- Optional – headrest
It’s important to be able to adjust the ergonomic chair to a comfortable functional position, to be able to rest your arms, and for your feet to reach the floor. So, if you are not tall enough for your legs to reach the floor with your arms rested at approximately a 90-degree elbow angle, you should use a foot rest or small stool under your feet.
When you’re working at a computer, you want to achieve open angles at your joints to prevent joint compression and allow for optimal blood flow and nerve conduction. An ideal seated position includes:
- Feet flat on the floor or foot rest
- Knees and hips both at approximately a 100-degree angle
- Back against the lumbar rest of the chair with a slight, supported arch
- Shoulders over or slightly behind hips
- Wrists at approximate height of elbows
- Wrists in neutral position, not bent up or down
- Ears over or slightly in front of shoulders
The biggest tendencies, the conditions they cause and the most common solutions are:
|Position||Condition||Equipment||Common Recommended Exercises|
|Extended Wrist||Carpal Tunnel Syndrome||Wrist Pads for Keyboard and Mouse||Wrist Flexor Stretch|
|Forward Head Posture||Neck Pain, Arm Pain, Headaches||Glasses, Chair headrest||Chin Tucks|
|Rounded shoulders||Shoulder Pain, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Neck/Upper Back Pain||Chair Arm Rests||Rows, Shoulder Blade Pinches|
|Slumped Sitting||Low Back Pain, Sciatica||Lumbar Support in Chair||Standing Back Bends, Hamstring/ Quad/Hip Flexor Stretches|
If you work at a computer and experience any of the above conditions, a physical therapist can probably help you. Through the wonders of modern technology, a PT can remotely do a workstation assessment of your current working conditions. They can observe you right at your work from home workstation. Then they will recommend appropriate equipment improvements, behavioral changes, exercises and other treatment modalities to relieve your symptoms. If you can work pain free, you will be more efficient, more productive, and work will be more enjoyable.
Daniel Seidler is the author of the ergonomic guidebook, Why Does Working @ My Computer Hurt So Much?