For some, working remotely will send productivity skyrocketing. For others, the lure of an afternoon Netflix binge will prove too strong. Either way, we’re bound for a few months of sitting, staring at our screens from home.
Understandably, given the rapidly evolving world we live in, most households were set up as pre-COVID escapes from our professional lives. We weren’t planning on letting our colleagues into our living rooms with each Zoom conference, and our furniture certainly wasn’t set up for long stints of work. Enter the brave new world of back pain, wrist injuries and neck injuries.
“Don’t let that faint whisper of back pain develop into a disc bulge,” advises Rebecca Feros, Physiotherapist from the Northern Beaches of Sydney.
Feros, who has found increased demand in recent weeks from clients seeking ergonomic home set-ups, spoke to MH in an effort to ensure these ailments aren’t felt before their time.
“When you are young it’s just the pits, so I’ve been working hard to get out there and hopefully preventing any long term damage,” explains Feros between dishing out advice that would be equally appropriate upon a return to the office.
In the words of Fifth Harmony’s prophetic 2016 hit, Work From Home, ‘you don’t gotta go to work, but you gotta put in work’. As for help with your sloppy at home work fashion choices, that’s all you, mate.
Iso-do’s and Iso-don’ts
If you’re not willing to splash some cash on a brand new ergonomic set-up (and who could blame you), Feros has some base line tips to protect your body from the perils of at home work. Heed her advice for social distancing yourself from unnecessary ailments.
1. Pretend a co-worker is in the room with you, watching you work.
When you’re in the office with colleagues, you wouldn't sit with your legs up on the desk or be slumped over your desk and chair, so don’t adopt this attitude at home.
2. Avoid working from the couch simply because it’s there.
Sure, the temptation to lounge on a bed of pillowy goodness is attractive, but save it for your off-duty Netflix binges. There’s bound to be plenty of them coming up.
3. Set a timer on your phone to get up and move around the house for stretches and short walks.
Gone are the days of walking to meetings, coffee runs and moving your car from the 2 hour parking zone, so replace these with in-house mobility runs at the same intervals.
4. Track your snacking.
With the fridge and pantry so easily accessible throughout the day, the lure of constant snacking will be ever present. However if you apply your office routine, including the times you eat, to your new home set-up, you’ll be on track for calorie maintenance.
How to set up a healthy work station
Make sure your chair is cushioned with lumbar (lower back) support to allow upright position of trunk with neutral spinal position. The height should be set so that your elbows are positioned at 90° to your desk. Keep your feet supported either flat on the floor or use of footstool to allow neutral hip and knee angle. Avoid crossing of ankles and legs.
If possible, extend your laptop to a second, larger display, keeping your work as central as possible. If you’re lucky enough to work off two screens, position yourself in the middle of both, keeping the screens at arm distance away. Set your screens at a horizontal angle of between 0° to -20° of your direct eye gaze. In non-physio terms, your eyes should be looking ever so slightly downwards. If working solely off a laptop, ensure the screen height is elevated and use a wireless keyboard and mouse.
Prop the pages up or use improvised document holders to allow neutral eye gaze as able. Treat these the same as your screens.
Key board and mouse
Maintain a neutral wrist position whenever possible when using both your mouse and keyboard, even using a rolled up small towel under your wrists to reduced pressure. The main indicator of proper typing form? Keeping you elbow positioned at 90°.
Ensure warm lighting is available. Open your blinds letting in as much natural light as possible, and move a lamp into the room to add to the overhead lighting.
It’s understandable that from time to time you may want to relocate to a bench to replicate a standing desk. Make sure that the height allows for your elbows to maintain a neutral 90° with shoulders relaxed. Distribute your weight evenly between your right and left feet, changing to a slit split stance position to ensure neutral pelvis for variation. Avoid leaning weight onto one side advises Feros. Reduce the ground reaction forces on the body by wearing supportive shoes (this is your chance to get away with sneakers at work) and by standing on soft ground like carpet square or rubber mat. Avoid standing on floorboards and tiles barefooted.