Ergonomic Basics for a Comfortable Home Work Space
If COVID-19 has sent you home to work, your neck, back and arms might be reporting that the sofa and coffee table are not good office furniture. Other potential home office spaces—the kitchen or dining room table, kitchen counter or any number of available chairs—might provide temporary relief before triggering new aches and strains.
Improving home workspace ergonomics is a matter of choosing the best furniture for the job, adjusting your screen height and positioning your keyboard and mouse.
Upholstered furniture and beds force bodies into slumped or reclined positions that might be comfortable for reading but make typing a chore. Adjustable tables and chairs with armrests provide optimal, tailored support. Adjust your chair for good lower back support, with thighs parallel to feet flat on the floor. Tables should be at mid-thigh height when you are standing.
If you don’t have adjustable furniture, use books or other props to lift a table or serve as a footrest. Find a chair that encourages good posture and offers lower back support.
The proper screen height keeps your head level (not looking up or down) and your neck in a relaxed position. Sit an arm’s length away from your monitor and position the screen 2 to 3 inches above eye level.
If you’re using a laptop, place it on a surface rather than your lap. If you have an external keyboard, you can boost your laptop monitor to the proper height with a stack of books. If you don’t, lift the laptop so that your screen is higher and typing is still comfortable.
Keyboard and mouse position
Position your keyboard and mouse so that your wrists are in line with your forearms. Your arms should bend at 90-degree angles with elbows just barely touching armrests.
Now get up and move!
Despite your very best efforts at ergonomic workspace design, preventing eye and body strain requires regular movement. To reduce eyestrain, look away from your screen for 20 seconds every 20 minutes, and focus on areas at least 20 feet away. To prevent muscle strain, get up and walk or stretch every 30 minutes.
You should also use short work breaks to tend to specific aches and strains. The Back School has compiled a series of Ergo Break (PDF) stretches that target fingers, wrist flexors and extensors, necks and shoulders, hamstrings and the lower back.
If no one space or furniture collection proves perfect, find a combination that keeps you productive and comfortable. You might stand or even walk around a bit when you’re on the phone, or read emails and short documents on your phone before sitting in your workspace to type replies.
Keep ergonomic basics in mind as you refine your workspace. And, of course, wash your hands and disinfect your work area frequently.
In addition, Tarah Cantore, an ergonomist at D-H, offers these tips:
- Don't store items under your desk.
- Keep your keyboard, mouse and key objects (such as your telephone, resources or materials) close to your body to minimize reaching. Stand up to reach anything that can't be comfortably reached while sitting.
- If you frequently talk on the phone and type or write at the same time, place your phone on the speaker rather than cradling the phone between your head and neck.
- Working From Home During Coronovirus - Samuel Johnson, PT, DPT, Physical Therapy and Dana Tinker, OT, CHT, Occupational Therapy.
- Tarah Cantore, Ergonomist, D-H.
- Illustration from 10 Best Ergonomic Laptop Setup Tips, Catherine Lutsey, PT, DPT, OCS, Spine-Health, January 14, 2020.