Jason Maksymowycz, Physiotherapist
In light of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have been fortunate enough to continue to work from home. While the freedom of working from home certainly has its perks, many of us do not have a work station that is ergonomically sound for the overall health of our spine. There are many simple, creative and inexpensive ways to modify your home workstation to battle the painful effects of “tech-neck”; a term used to describe neck aches and pains which can develop after hunching over while using computers and other handheld devices.
Here are 5 tips to stay comfortable and ergonomic while you are working from home:
1. Laptop height
Laptop computers are a main piece of equipment we use when working from home. Although laptops are very versatile and portable, the screen is either too low or the keyboard is too high. As a rule of thumb, the screen should be about an arm’s length away to prevent eye strain. The top of the monitor should be at or slightly below eye level to prevent that forward head posture that is so strongly correlated with neck pain. You can get creative and use a stack of books or a box to help find that perfect spot.
2. Wireless keyboard/mouse
Ok so now your laptop screen is set at just the right height but now the keyboard is positioned too high. This poor setup will position your wrists out of neutral and cause you to shrug your shoulders in order to compensate for the keyboard height. Going wireless with your keyboard and mouse will help keep your shoulders relaxed and wrists in neutral, relieving tension throughout your neck, shoulders and wrists.
3. Use a lumbar roll
A neutral spine in sitting aids in the stability of the low back and pelvis to help support the muscles, joints, nerves and discs in your back. A nice way to help facilitate this position is to roll up a towel into a log and place the towel in the small of your back; between your spine and the back of a supportive chair. This will provide comfort and support, as well as tactile feedback to assist in maintaining your normal low back curve.
4. Frequent position/posture changes
Even with the perfect ergonomic setup, sitting in one position for too long can still lead to neck and back pain. When you sit for extended periods, you are not using your powerful lower body muscles to hold you in an upright position. This can lead weakening and atrophy of your sit muscles and shortening of your hip flexor muscles. Over time this muscle imbalance can contribute to pain and increase your risk of injury due to undue stress placed on your spine. A standing workstation is an ideal alternative which can be easily set up at the kitchen countertop. It is important to alternate between sitting and standing every hour to avoid pain and fatigue. Always remember your best posture is your next posture!
5. Take rest breaks
Our bodies are designed for movement, so get up and move! It is easy for us to get very focused on our work for long, uninterrupted periods but it is essential to take frequent rest breaks. Set a timer every 30 minutes and get up, walk around, stretch or make a snack. Each rest break should be 5-10 minutes in duration to help clear your mind, avoid fatigue and reset your posture.