December 1, 2020
Working from home provides convenience but also challenges when the environment isn’t ergonomically sound. Here are some suggestions to help ensure comfort and prevent pain.
Make Adjustments for Optimal Positioning
For optimal positioning of the head, neck and upper extremities, you should be able to keep your elbows at the side of the body, flexed to approximately 90 degrees. Adjust the height of the chair or desk/table if needed. If more than one chair/desk option is available, try to find the best combination for your elbow height.
Get Creative with Your Keyboard
Under-mounted keyboard trays are often used in the workplace and can be purchased for home use. However, they need to be permanently mounted, and you may not want this accessory attached to your dining room table indefinitely.
If all table options are too high, and use of a keyboard tray is not an option, you can raise the height of your elbows using a higher chair, sitting on an extra cushion, or use risers for your chair.
Unmounted adjustable height keyboard supports, which rest on top of a desk or table, are available online or in office supply stores. To check it out with no financial investment, you can try using a cardboard box to elevate the keyboard and tilt the angle of the monitor. Ideally, try to maintain the 90-degree angle of elbow flexion in the standing or sitting position.
Make Your Chair Ergonomically Correct
Avoid dangling your feet off the edge of the chair, which increases pressure on the posterior thigh and sciatic nerve. A small box or old phonebook can serve as a foot support. For correct positioning, you should be able to reach under the lower thighs above the knees with your fingertips. The hips and thighs should be parallel with the floor. Try not to sit directly in front of drawers or cabinets with no leg room.
Alternate Mouse Use
Consider alternating mouse use with the right and left hand (it takes practice!) by moving the mouse to the opposite side of the keyboard. Another option is to place the mouse on a clipboard or other flat surface on your lap while sitting. Place frequently used items close to your body. Stand up to reach items that cannot be reached comfortably from a sitting position.
Your Video Monitor
Once your hands and upper body are in good position, we turn our attention to the video monitor. It is important to adjust the height of the monitor so that you can look straight ahead at the monitor without flexing or extending the neck more than 15 degrees from the neutral position. Excessive neck flexion or extension may increase headaches by putting tension on the occipital nerve or cervical paraspinal and trapezius muscles.
If the monitor height is not adjustable, try raising the monitor to the correct height by placing it on top of one or two large books that fully support the base of the monitor.
Some jobs require two monitors. Center the main screen in front, with the other monitor angled at the side with the edges touching (no gap in between). If you use both monitors equally, they both should be angled in a “V” shape in front of you.
Watch out for Eyestrain
To relieve eyestrain related to use of accommodating eye muscles for an extended time, increase the distance to the focal point by moving the video screen further away. With a laptop screen, take 30-second breaks where you focus out of a window at a distant point every 30 minutes. If your home office does not have a window, look down a long hallway or hang a picture of an outdoor scene on the opposite wall.
If you are using a telephone handset instead of your computer’s microphone for frequent conference calls, consider getting an earpiece with a microphone, so you can avoid bending your neck laterally, which applies pressure on the cervical facet joints. It is best to keep any bright light, such as a reading lamp, to the side of the monitor.
Sit and Stand for Health Benefits
Studies of office workers have shown health benefits from alternating sitting and standing while working. Prolonged sitting correlates with discomfort in the back and thighs. Cognitive functions, including creative problem-solving skills, diminish with sitting for only two hours. Consider standing when making audio-only telephone calls.
Check out these exercises from the Physical Therapy Department at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health.
Avoid Extending Your Workday
Some remote workers are extending their workday into evening hours. Distractions in the home environment can make it difficult to complete work during standard business hours. Consider powering-off your electronics after business hours, unless you have a project that cannot wait until the next business day. Remember that cognitive work in the evening will activate excitatory neurotransmitters in the cerebral cortex and may disrupt sleep. Try to create down time of at least 60 minutes prior to bedtime to allow for the best restorative sleep.