Best Tips for Home Office Ergonomics and Hazards to Avoid
COVID-19 has led to a drastic shift in the way we work. Companies and organizations across the globe are adopting flexible hours, providing more options to work from home, and in some cases going fully remote. This has ultimately created a “new normal” where people can now expect to work from home more than they ever did before – and this is not easy for everyone.
“Some people may not have access or ability to set up a proper home office and may find themselves working in unconventional spaces,” says Dr. Leah Lawson, a chiropractor at Bayside Wellness in Collingwood and Vitality Health in Barrie, Ontario. “When we introduce areas that we don’t normally work in, such as behind a dining room table or on the bed, we begin to see effects on our body such as low back pain, neck stiffness, headaches, and wrist pain. As such, it’s important to set up your working space as optimally as possible to prevent future injury.”
As experts in spine, muscles, and joints (musculoskeletal) care, chiropractors like Dr. Lawson can support people working from home to help keep their neck, back, hips, and knees safe no matter where they choose to work from.
“Recognizing that the home is a busy place, we want to make sure that the body is supported, no matter if you’re working on the bed or patio during the summer months,” says Dr. Lawson.
Below, Dr. Lawson shares her tips for working from home safely long-term and setting up an optimal workstation.
Home Office Ergonomics: Working Behind the Dining Room Table
“One of the most common living spaces that people use as a home office is the dining room table,” says Dr. Lawson.
To optimize this space and prevent future injury, ensure that you:
- Are not crooked on the chair and your posture is straight. Don’t hunch over.
- Move your hips all the way back against your chair.
- Use a bin or a stack of books to raise your laptop, iPad or any other working device so that the top of the device is at your eye level.
- Use a separate keyboard so that it’s positioned at your elbow height.
Home Office Ergonomics: Working on the Bed
“It’s not recommended to sit on a bed or couch where your body is not supported for a long period of time,” says Dr. Lawson. “However, if you find yourself needing to work on a bed or couch where your body cannot be fully supported, it is best to do this for short periods of time.”
The ideal posture for sitting on a bed is with your hips moved toward the headboard or wall, a pillow propped against your low back, and another pillow on your lap to give leverage to your work device.
- Sitting cross-legged and leaning over your device. This can cause knee, hip and neck issues.
- Laying straight out with your neck flexed, looking down at your device. This can cause neck problems.
Home Office Ergonomics: Working on the Patio
“As Ontarians who often experience long winters, you may want to take advantage of nicer weather by moving your workstation outside,” says Dr. Lawson. “However, working on patio furniture can cause pain and injury if not done properly.”
For example, you should not be leaning back on the patio chair as this can hurt the upper back and neck. Since patio and backyard tables tend to be low, leaning over a laptop or device can also strain the upper back, hips, and knees.
“The optimal posture for working on outdoor furniture is to scooch your hips all the way back in the chair and use a pillow against your low back for lumbar support,” says Dr. Lawson. “Add a pillow or any other prop to lift your device so that it’s as close to the eye level as possible. And, of course, stay hydrated and use sun protection!”
Home Office Ergonomics: Setting Up a Semi-Permanent Workstation
While all of the above is helpful for making use of spaces to work in around the home, it’s “extremely important to take the time to set up a home office properly to prevent injury in the future,” says Dr. Lawson.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when setting up a semi-permanent workstation at home:
- When sitting in your chair, ensure that your hips are all the way back and your back is touching the back rest of the chair.
- Ensure you have a pillow for your lower back for support.
- Raise your device or screen so that the top is at your eye level.
- Use a separate keyboard and mouse so that they can remain at elbow height.
- Use a tea towel or any other towel to roll up under the wrist to help prevent wrist pain.
“Remember that anywhere you work – whether from home or at the office – you should ideally be sitting for only for 30 to 50 minutes before you change positions or postures,” says Dr. Lawson. “Take a few minutes to get up and walk around or perform a few stretches. This can go a long way for your body.”
Top Six Home Office Hazards to Consider
- Yoga ball chair challenges: While using a yoga ball chair can be good for the core, they demand your abdominal muscles to be “on” for the full day. This can cause fatigue and additional strain on the lower back.
- Slouching: Be mindful if you are sitting on one hip more than the other, or leaning over your devices too much.
- Laptop use: Working strictly from the laptop can lead to eye strain, headaches, and neck pain if the device is not placed at optimal height.
- Wrist strain: Use an external keyboard or mouse and place a tea towel under the wrists to provide support.
- Sitting still: Move every 50 minutes. Even doing a few stretches on the way to get your coffee or water will help.
- Standing still: Standing desks are great – just make sure it’s properly set up, you’re wearing good supportive shoes, and take frequent breaks to avoid staying in one position for too long.
“Adjusting to a new environment, such as working from home can be stressful both mentally and physically,” says Dr. Lawson. “It’s important to keep the tips above in mind, and if possible, take the time to set up a proper workspace especially if working from home will become your new normal. This will help decrease risk of future injury.”
Seek Professional Advice if Your Issues Persist
To find a chiropractor near you, use the Find a Chiropractor locator on our website. In Ontario, you can visit a chiropractor without a referral from a doctor, nurse practitioner or other health care professional. If you already have a chiropractor and/or another health care professional, join our Partnership4BetterHealth online patient advisory community. Then, you can share your ideas on how to enhance chiropractic services and make a positive impact on our health care system. It’s confidential, free, and always your choice to participate.