Ergonomic Home Office Tips For People Working From Home

January 21, 2021

By Jessica Moore, PT, DPT

man with back pain working from home

With the pandemic forcing many of us to work from home, it’s important to make sure you have an ergonomically correct home office setup. With the recent opening of Evolve’s newest physical therapy clinic in Bethany, we’ve had an opportunity to work with a lot of local residents who work from home for companies in Portland. As telecommuting has become more common, we’ve been seeing an increase in people suffering the effects of poor home office ergonomics. 

It may be tempting to sit in bed and work from a laptop in your pajamas, but proper ergonomics can go a long way to prevent or exacerbate discomfort and injuries. Workplace injuries are now something you have to think about at home. Of course, if you’re new to working from home you might not be sure what is required for an ergonomic home office. Let’s go through some tips.

Signs of Bad Home Office Ergonomics

Many people don’t connect the dots between pain or discomfort and bad ergonomic set-up for work. 

But a home office that isn’t designed ergonomically can cause extra stress and strain on your body, often in the wrists, hands, shoulders, back and neck. If you experience tenderness, pain, swelling, stiffness, tingling, throbbing, or weakness in these areas, you may very well be experiencing an injury caused by bad ergonomics.

Fortunately, it isn’t difficult to create a good ergonomic home office.

Your Computer Workstation

You should always have a dedicated workspace where you can sit comfortably and work for extended periods of time. 

You may be tempted to work from bed or couch, but that will lead to positions of discomfort creating tissue stress leading to pain or injury. Hunching over from the couch can cause neck and spine problems  from staring down at a laptop screen. 

woman working at kitchen table holding her neck in pain

Working from bed can cause strain on your back, neck, and shoulders from the lack of proper support. Beds are designed to be slept on and make terrible places to do work. 

You should always work from a workstation where you can be seated upright with your monitor at about eye-level. You shouldn’t have to tilt your head down or forward to see your screen. 

Your Chair

One of the make-or-break items when it comes to good ergonomics is the chair you sit in. A good chair can go a long way in preventing back or neck pain, and there are ergonomic chairs available that won’t break your budget. 

The ideal workspace chair will support your spine and allow you to adjust the height of the seat and back as well as the tilt. Your feet should be able to rest on the floor, not dangling off the chair. 

Alternatively, you can get a footrest to put your feet on or create your own out of a sturdy box or some other object. The most ergonomic chairs will have adjustable armrests that let you rest your arms on them with your shoulders relaxed.

Your Desk

An ergonomic desk set-up is also vitally important. An ideal desk will be at a comfortable height, about the height of your elbow when seated properly, and have plenty of room for your legs. 

It’s best not to store things underneath your desk that force your legs into unnatural positions. 

Finally, you’ll want to make sure that you have plenty of room on your desk for an effective monitor and keyboard setup. If your workstation is cramped, you’ll often be forced to accommodate by moving your peripherals into uncomfortable positions. 

Your Computer Setup

The best place to set up your computer monitor is directly in your line of sight about an arm’s length away from your face says Jay Kim, assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at Oregon State University.

If the monitor is too close or too far away, it can cause eye strain. It’s best to keep your monitor right behind your keyboard so you can look directly at it while you type. 

You’ll want to put your mouse within a comfortable reaching distance on the same surface that your keyboard rests on. If you find your wrists becoming tired, consider adjusting the sensitivity on your mouse so that it can be operated with a lighter touch. Also consider a vertical mouse or trackball mouse to help alleviate wrist pain.

You can also use keyboard shortcuts as a way to minimize your mouse usage. 

If you have a dual monitor setup, it’s helpful to make sure that your monitors are all at the same level and keep your main monitor right in front of you. To prevent eye strain, follow the “20 by 20 by 20” rule: look twenty feet away for no fewer than twenty seconds about every twenty minutes.

Repetitive strain injuries in the wrists and hands are very common and are usually caused by a poor keyboard or mouse set-up. The ideal keyboard setup allows you to keep your wrists straight with your hands at or just below elbow level. Alexis, from Evolve Physical Therapy, demonstrates here:

Alexis office ergonomics

You might consider investing in an ergonomic mouse pad with padding for your wrists as well as wrist padding for your keyboard. These pads act as kind of a buffer for your wrists to prevent strain and stress injuries. You can also roll up a towel or cloth as a do-it-yourself alternative to ergonomic pads for the short-term.

Ergonomic Phone Use

Surprising to many people, your phone use even has ergonomic considerations. Tilting your head to support a phone while you try to multitask is a common cause of neck discomfort. If you do a lot of talking on the phone, especially while typing or doing other things, a phone headset is an  essential  investment.

Fortunately, good headsets are fairly affordable. Alternatively, you can use your phone’s speaker function as long as privacy issues aren’t a concern.

Some Additional Home Office Tips

One of the best ways to prevent stress and strain is to take regular breaks. Aside from resting your eyes, you’ll want to get up from your chair and stretch at regular intervals. 

It’s recommended to take a break every hour for at least five minutes. Stand up and stretch, walk around a bit, focus your eyes on things in the distance. 

Many people don’t take lighting into account when it comes to maintaining an ergonomic office. If your main lighting source is behind or to the side of your computer monitor, it can cause a glare which often leads to eye strain. 

The best lighting will be out of your line-of-sight and provide enough light to see your keyboard or written documents without having to strain your eyes. Lighting that’s too bright or too dim can cause eye strain, and bright lights can also lead to headaches.

The more you work from home, the more  a good ergonomic workstation will go in preventing pain and injury. Fortunately a good ergonomic home office setup isn’t difficult to create. 

If you have questions about your home office setup, call us to set up a virtual visit with one of our physical therapists. They can review your particular situation and provide guidance and direction on the best solutions to keep you working safely and comfortably. 

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