Setting up your home office for optimal performance and decreased musculoskeletal strain
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted almost every aspect of our lives since early 2020, and work life is a significant part of that. Many who had previously commuted to an office location every day found themselves suddenly working from home in varying conditions.
Although sitting on the comfy couch in your pajamas might sound like a more comfortable way to work, you are at risk for musculoskeletal strain or pain from awkward sitting postures. Here are some tips for setting up a home office and preventing pain and injuries.
There are three main elements of office and workplace ergonomics:
- Workstation/desk for keyboard and mouse
- Monitor or computer screen
1. Choose the right chair
Your body will thank you for investing in a proper desk chair. Although a chair from the kitchen table can work for short term (1-2 weeks), it’s worth investing in an adjustable office chair if you will be working remotely for a longer time.
An optimal office chair will:
- have some adjustable features for height, seat pan depth, tilt, arm rests, and head rests.
- provide support at your lumbar (low back).
- allow for your feet to rest flat on the floor.
If your feet do not touch the floor, a small stool or box can be used to allow for foot support. Additionally, there should not be any pressure from the edge of the chair on the backs of your knees.
2. Set up your workstation or desk
An ideal workstation should:
- be adjustable so that you can sit or stand throughout the day.
- have a “waterfall” or smooth edge – sharp edges put pressure on your wrists. Pipe insulation or other padding can be used to cover sharp edges if necessary.
- be large enough to accommodate a keyboard, mouse, document holder, and monitor. If you are working from a laptop, an external keyboard and mouse are recommended.
The height of the workstation (keyboard and mouse) should allow for a neutral arm position with elbows at approximately 90 degrees. Measure from your elbow to the floor and subtract 2-3 inches for optimal placement.
There are many options for an external keyboard and mouse; they are not one-size-fits-all. Find a keyboard and mouse that allow your wrists to sit in a neutral position and avoid extreme or awkward positions (bending the wrist too far in any direction). The size of the keyboard and mouse should be a good fit for the size of your hands.
3. Place your monitor or computer screen
Your monitor or computer screen should be placed:
- at the correct distance from your eyes to reduce eye strain and forced positioning of the head.
- at the correct height to avoid neck pain.
- in a position that reduces glare from natural and artificial light.
A monitor should be about arm’s length or 20-36 inches away from your body, depending on font size, number of screens, and your eyesight. If you find yourself constantly leaning forward to see the monitor, it is too far away; or you need to make the font size on the monitor larger.
The height of the monitor should allow for a neutral head position to reduce strain on your neck. You don’t need a fancy solution; a stack of paper, books, or small box is an easy way to adjust the monitor if it is too low.
Reducing glare can help reduce eye strain or engaging in awkward postures to see the monitor more clearly. Monitors should be placed perpendicular to windows if possible, and indirect lighting is recommended to help reduce glare. If overhead light is the cause of glare on the monitor, consider using a task light as needed. To give your eyes a break, every 20 minutes take 20 seconds to look at an object at least 20 feet away.
Considerations for dual monitors: If you use both monitors equally, center them in front of you. You may need to move the monitors further away so that both screens are within your central field of vision. You shouldn’t have to rotate your neck repeatedly to look between the two monitors. If you use one monitor primarily and the other monitor occasionally, center the monitor you use the most in front of you.
4. Develop healthy work-from-home habits
Once you have your home office set-up, remember to take breaks and change positions throughout the day. Small breaks, changing positions, and standing up for a stretch break can increase blood flow, reduce the risk of injury, and decrease fatigue.
Yes, The Rehabilitation Center can help you with your home office.
If you are experiencing discomfort, overuse injuries or muscle strains from your current work station set-up, the occupational therapists at The Rehabilitation Center can provide an assessment and recommendations specifically for you. Give them a call at 828-238-9043.
Author: Lauren Hutchins, MS OTR/L, The Rehabilitation Center