Working from home? A Guide to Proper Ergonomics

Feb 09, 2021

Working from home is the reality for many nowadays leaving people to improvise a space to put in those long hours. While it may be a desk for some, others are stuck between the couch and kitchen table. So, while working from home is rarely ideal, here are some fundamentals in setting up a space to help keep those aches and pains away.

(1)  Maintain a neutral spine.

A neutral spine is not a straight spine. Our spine has natural curves that need to be maintained in order for our body to be able to function at its most efficient state. Whether you are sitting or standing, this is the ideal position for your spine to be in. Once one area of the spine is altered the rest is subsequently affected in order to compensate causing some muscles and other structures to be overworked and shortened while others may be under utilized and lengthened.

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How do you maintain a neutral spine? Start from the bottom up. As you sit in down your feet should be flat on the floor and your thighs parallel to the ground. Make sure your hips are level and you’re not tilting to either side. You should feel like you are putting even weight through your entire bottom. If working with surfaces that are non-adjustable, you may need to get creative with books or small stools to ensure your feet are not dangling. If you’re sitting too low and can’t properly reach the keyboard, you may need to add a cushion to the chair in order to elevate your sitting position. Just remember whatever changes need to be made ensure that (1) your feet are resting on a flat surface, (2) thighs are parallel to the ground and (3) hips are even.

Moving up the spine, many office chairs provide lower back support that encourage a neutral spine; however, kitchen chairs or folding chairs do not. If you do not have an office chair, consider using a rolled-up towel or small pillow at the small of your back to help maintain your natural lower curve. We will address the upper spine when discussing computer set up and monitor placement.

(1)  Consider your computer set up.

While laptops are great for portability, they make true ergonomic set up challenging as we cannot detach the screen from the keyboard. For short periods of time, this can be fine, but for full workdays it may be necessary to consider investing in an external keyboard and mouse.

The top third of the monitor should be at eye level so that when looking at the middle of the screen, your gaze is slightly downwards. If your monitor does not adjust, you may need to consider propping it with books in order for it to be at the right height. On the contrary, if the monitor is too high you may have to elevate your sitting position. Additionally, your monitor should be at approximately arm’s length away. This ensures that you are able to view the entire screen at once without have to move your head side-to-side.

Your keyboard should be placed at elbow height and when typing, your wrist should remain straight while your upper arms naturally stay close to your body. Once the height is correct, adjust the keyboard to the proper distance. You elbows should hang comfortably by your side ensuring that you are not overreaching. It may be necessary to roll up a small towel to be placed under your wrists to support a neutral position. Many keyboards have the option to tilt upwards, however, a flat keyboard is better ergonomically. When placing the mouse, consider the same principles.

By ensuring that everything is an appropriate height and you are not straining to use any of the equipment, this helps to maintain a neutral spine of your mid / upper back and neck.

(2)  Take breaks.

Our body is meant to move! It does not tolerant long durations of one position well, even with the best ergonomic set up. So, if possible, get up every 30 minutes to 1 hour and allow you body to move.

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