Ergonomics – Getting Comfortable at Home

April 24, 2020

By Melisa Abesa PT, DPT, OCS

Many of today’s office workers have recently found themselves settling into a new workspace – home. Unfortunately, it may be a less ideal ergonomic set-up than their usual office with limited equipment and space. While we can’t change everything about your home office (like your new coworkers), we CAN improve your environment.

What is “Ergonomics”?

According to Merriam-Webster, ergonomics is defined as “an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely”. The primary goals of office ergonomics are comfort and ease of activity. With simple workspace modifications we can decrease common musculoskeletal complaints (like neck and back pain), improve productivity and efficiency, and counter the negative effects of sustained sitting. 

Creating Your Space

A simple but often overlooked first step is designating a specific workspace. This will allow for an improved physical space, where you can create a more permanent and uninterrupted computer set-up. It will also allow for a mental separation between work and non-work time and tasks. 

Try to make your space happy and bright, but not distracting. Allow for some natural light if able, and you can spruce it up with a couple plants or pictures. Creating a positive environment can improve mood and make working longer desk hours from home more tolerable. 

The 90-degree Rule for Ergonomics

Classic office ergonomics typically encourage sitting upright in a supportive chair with feet on the floor, elbow bents, and wrist resting comfortably at the desk/keyboard. They recommend approximately 90 degree angles at the knees, hips, and elbows. Your monitor should be at or below eye level when sitting tall, and elbows and wrists should be supported. For most people, this is an excellent place to start – but don’t be afraid to cater the positioning to your specific needs and preferences. It is okay to vary the angles, use props (ie. a foot rest), and change positions as needed.

Some helpful tools (if available to you) include a separate monitor or keyboard if working from a laptop, a headset if required to do extensive phone work, and a sit to stand station. Having separate equipment will allow more flexibility with positioning, promoting improved positioning of the arms as well as the head and neck. A headset is an excellent tool for long or multiple calls to facilitate hands-free phone work without cradling a phone against your shoulder. While you may not have access to a true sit-to-stand desk, you can arrange a second station to stand at by simply elevating your computer. This may simply be stacking some books to raise your monitor height, and using a counter vs a desk for improved keyboard position. 

The goal is “neutral” positioning – but that will vary from person to person. Your take home message? Be comfortable, avoid extreme postures at end range positions, and, more importantly, don’t stay in one fixed posture for too long. 

Don’t Forget to MOVE

“Sitting is the new smoking.” –  Dr James Levine (Mayo Clinic). 

Your best posture is your NEXT posture – it’s ok (and actually highly encouraged) to move around, change positions, and stand periodically. 

QUICK TIPS: 

  • Don’t be afraid to fidget. Micro-movements are better than no movement.
  • Take breaks from your screen 2-3x/hour – look away, do gentle seated neck and shoulder circles.
  • Stand up from your desk AT LEAST 1x/hour, even if only for 1-2 minutes. 
  • TAKE A LUNCH BREAK. Schedule time to fully disengage from work activities for at least 15-20 minutes. Use this as a time to move, refuel, and mentally recharge for the rest of your work day. 
  • Take standing or walking meetings/phone calls when able. If you don’t need to be at your computer, take advantage of the opportunity to be away from your desk for a moment. 

Hope you find some helpful strategies to try out at home. If you are experiencing sustained pain or have questions in regards to your specific home set-up, contact us for an appointment at Evolve Physical Therapy today!

Melisa Abesa is a California transplant who has come to love the Pacific Northwest. Since graduating with her Doctorate of Physical Therapy from the University of Southern California in 2014, she has practiced in the Portland/Salem area. She is a huge advocate for patient empowerment, individualized care, and a holistic approach to health and wellness.

As a board-certified clinical specialist in orthopedic physical therapy, she enjoys working with a large variety of orthopedic and sports related conditions, with special interests including runners, headache treatments, post-operative care, and adolescent athletes.

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