More and more people are now required to work from home, but not everyone has a proper home workspace that is set up for optimal comfort and efficiency when working for eight hours a day. It’s important to learn how your workspace should be set up in order to avoid improper posture that may lead to acute back and neck pain or cause long term spine issues.
How to Set Up Your Workspace
When working from home, the set up of your workspace will set the tone for your working postures and habits. These habits play a large role in either protecting or harming your spine, so it’s important to set it up correctly. While you don’t have to be tied to one spot or position, the area where you spend the most time needs to be set up in a way that will promote good posture and adequate support in order to lessen your likelihood of injury from awkward posture. You should work from desks or tables as much as possible, and avoid sitting on a bed or couch for long periods of time while working.2
If possible, do not work exclusively from a laptop. However, if a laptop is all you have, the best thing to do is place it on a stand or stack of books in order to make sure it’s at the correct level for your eye line.2 Whether you’re working with a laptop or from a separate monitor, your screen should be positioned just below your eye line and between 20-40 inches, about an arm’s length, away from your eyes. The exact distance will depend on the size of the screen. If your screen is small, 20 inches is acceptable, and distance should increase as the size of the screen increases. If you work with dual monitors, they should be placed close to each other and at the same height and distance in order to avoid forcing your eyes to constantly refocus, or having to turn your head too much to look between them.3
A separate keyboard and mouse will also help you in maintaining proper posture, but they need to be positioned correctly in order to do so. As a rule of thumb, the ASDF row of your keyboard should be at the same height as your elbows, whether you’re working at a sitting or standing workstation.3
Your chair should also have lower back support as well as a seat cushion in order to protect your back. However, if your chair does not have these features built into it, you can simply place a cushion on the seat and a soft, rolled-up towel or blanket to place behind your lower back.2
When using your phone, you should stick to the speakerphone option or wear a headset, and avoid holding your phone between your neck and shoulder. If you find yourself texting a lot, dictating your messages is best in order to protect your wrists.2
It may also be helpful to maintain both a primary work zone and a secondary work zone. The items you use most often should remain in your primary work zone so that you can access them without twisting or reaching. The primary work zone should be the area close to the front of your body, while the secondary work zone should be within the reach of your outstretched arms.3
Now you know how your workspace should be set up, but what is the proper posture that you should maintain when you’re working, and do you need to maintain the posture for all eight hours of your workday?
Your sitting posture should be “neutral.” In neutral posture, the neck is straight, shoulders straight down with arms loosely at your sides, elbows are at a right angle, wrists are straight, the lower back is supported, waist and knees are at 90° angles, and feet should be resting either flat on the floor or on a footrest if they can’t reach the floor. The purpose of a footrest is to maintain your knees and waist at a right angle while keeping your feet properly supported. You should change your position if you begin to feel fatigued.3 This can be done properly by alternating between sitting and standing or taking a movement break.
The best chair for your workspace will be one that is able to be adjusted. Chairs that can’t be adjusted tend to lead to poor posture, increasing your potential for discomfort or injury. It also increases the likelihood of static muscle loading. Static muscle loading is when one position is held for an extended length of time without adequate support.3
Stretches for Movement Breaks
Taking frequent movement breaks while working is important for preventing the buildup of tension, which can lead to pain and discomfort. There are a number of apps and extensions that can be used to time or schedule out your breaks. These include Stand Up! The Work Break Timer which can be downloaded from Apple’s app store, and some Google Chrome options include Break Timer and Micro Breaks.2
When taking movement breaks, they should last between 5-10 minutes and should be taken when you feel tension beginning to build up. You should stretch slowly and without bouncing. You should also begin each stretch with an easy stretch, and only stretch up to a point where you feel a slight stretch. The easy stretch should be held for 5-20 seconds. While holding the easy stretch, you should feel the tension diminish. If it doesn’t, slowly move into a more comfortable stretch. This easy stretch will prepare your tissues for the developmental stretch.1
After holding the easy stretch, ease into the stretch until you once again feel mild tension. This stretch with tension is the developmental stretch and should be held for 10-15 seconds. Tension should either decrease or remain the same. If the stretch becomes painful, this means that you’re overstretching.1 These steps should be followed for each of the following stretches.
- Stretch 1
- Separate and straighten your fingers until tension is felt. Hold this for 10 seconds, then relax and bend your fingers at the knuckles, holding this position for 10 seconds as well.1
- Stretch 2 – Shoulder Shrug
- Raise the top of your shoulders to your ears until you feel slight tension in your neck and shoulders. Hold this position for 3-5 seconds, then relax your shoulders into their normal position. Do this 2-3 times whenever you feel tightness in your neck and shoulders.1
- Stretch 3
- Interlace your fingers and place them behind your head, keeping your elbows straight out at the sides with your upper body properly aligned. Pull your shoulder blades toward each other to create tension throughout your upper back and shoulder blades. Hold this position for 8-10 seconds and relax. Do this when your shoulders and upper back are tense.1
- Stretch 4
- Begin with your head in a comfortable, aligned positon. Slowly tilt your head to the left to stretch the muscles on that side of your neck. Hold it for 10-20 seconds, then tilt your head to the right and stretch for 10-20 seconds again. Do this stretch 2-3 times on each side.1
- Stretch 5
- While sitting in a stable, aligned position, turn your chin toward your left side to create a stretch on the right side of your neck, holding it for 10-20 seconds. Stretch each side twice.1
- Stretch 6
- Gently tilt your head forward to stretch the back of your neck and hold it for 5-10 seconds. Repeat this 3-5 times, avoiding overstretching.1
- Stretch 7
- Hold your left arm right above your elbow with your right hand. Then gently pull your elbow toward the opposite shoulder as you look over your left shoulder. Hold this stretch for 15-20 seconds on both sides.1
- Stretch 8
- Interlock your fingers, then put your arms straight out in front of you. Your palms should be facing away from you. This stretch will be felt in your arms and throughout the upper part of your shoulder blades. Hold this for 10-15 seconds, and do it at least two times.1
- Stretch 9
- Interlock your fingers, turning your palms up above head as you straighten out your arms. Elongate your arms, feeling a stretch through your arms and the upper sides of your ribcage. Hold this for 10-20 seconds and repeat 3 times.1
- Stretch 10
- Hold your left elbow with your right hand, then gently pull your elbow behind your head until a mild tension is felt in your shoulder or triceps. Hold this for 30 seconds on both sides.1
Unfortunately, while these tips can help prevent back and neck pain and spine damage, once a spinal disc is damaged it can’t be reversed. If you have been living with debilitating back pain that is affecting your lifestyle, it may be time to apply for the Discseel® Procedure to find out if it’s right for you.
- Computer and Desk Stretches. (n.d.). Retrieved April 28, 2020, from https://ehs.ucsc.edu/programs/ergo/stretch.html
- Ergonomic Tips for Working at Home. (n.d.). Retrieved April 28, 2020, from https://uhs.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/ergonomics_tips_for_working_at_home.pdf
- Subramanian, A., Miller, B. F., & Fernandez, J. (2020, April 1). Ergonomics Recommendations For Remote Work. Retrieved April 28, 2020, From Https://Www.Ehstoday.Com/Health/Article/21127667/Ergonomics-Recommendations-For-Remote-Work