Updated: May 20
September 12th, 2020
Our current social climate has caused a rapid rise in people needing to work and study from home. Working from home can have its benefits such as sleep-ins, short commute times and easy fridge access. However, having a bad home office setup can contribute to increased neck, back and upper limb pain. With a lot of uncertainty regarding the timeline of COVID-19 and how long these distancing measures will be in place, it makes sense to be proactive in setting up your home environment and routine to ensure that your time at home can be productive and pain free. Here are some quick and easy tips to improve the comfort of your home office.
Environmental setup tips:
Ensure good even lighting throughout the room, implement a desk lamp or increased screen brightness if needed and be aware of screen glare from the sun.
Aim to limit background noise, avoid the urge to keep Netflix running in the background. You may be best to set up your office in the quietest room of the house or to inform family members/housemates of your work hours.
Give yourself plenty of work-space, keep clutter to a minimum and ensure that the documents you need as well as your keyboard and mouse are within a close distance to minimise reaching.
The novelty of working/studying from the couch or your bed will soon wear off, choose an appropriate desk space and chair and your body will thank you for it. Here are some specific tips for selecting the right desk and chair set up for you:
The best chair for your home office:
When selecting an office chair, ensure it is adjustable in height, is stable with a five point base and ideally has an adjustable back. When setting up the chair there are a few measurements that we use to make sure it is right for you. Please refer to Figure 1 & 2 whilst reading the information below.
Firstly, is our elbow measure (1) : elbows should be at a 90 degrees angle to your work desk and your arms should be parallel to your spine. If not you need to adjust the height of the chair up/down
Second is our thigh measure (2): you should be easily able to slide your fingers under your thigh at the leading edge of the office chair. You should aim to always have your hips positioned higher than your knees. If you can’t place your fingers under your thighs or if your hips are the same height as your knees then you may need to prop your hips up with a wedged cushion as shown in figure 1. Alternatively, if your feet are hovering off the floor you can implement the use of a foot rest. If using a foot rest ensure that it is not too high and that hips remain higher than knees.
Next is our calf measure (3): You should be able to pass a clenched fist between the back of your calf and the front of your office chair. If you can't do that then the office chair may be too deep and the backrest may need to be adjusted forward or a lumbar roll support inserted.
Where possible your lumbar spine should be pressed against the back of your chair or against a lumbar roll utilised to help maintain a neutral spine and minimise the strain (4).
Additionally, if your chair has adjustable armrests, these can be positioned to offload the shoulders and neck by elevating the arms slightly.
The best desk for your home office:
Standard desk height is around 700mm, if you are not fortunate enough to have an adjustable desk at home try to use a table around this height. Correct desk height allows the wrist and shoulders to rest in the appropriate position and takes strain off the neck and eyes.
Your eye gaze should be aimed at the top third of your computer screen with the screen roughly an arms length away. Computers can be set up on a computer stand or temporarily books or yoga blocks to assist (5).
If using a laptop that has been elevated, it may be of additional benefit to has a separate keyboard & mouse available to avoid hunching of the shoulders. This will also minimise poor wrist position.
Finally, it is important to take care of yourself with regular screen breaks and continued exercise during this time. Research shows that people who exercise and have increased muscle mass are happier, more productive and report less pain (Korhonen, et al, 2003). While specific neck strengthening exercises are effective at reducing pain in office workers (Chen et al, 2017). We know that, with the shutdown of gyms and sporting facilities, it has made it difficult and confusing for people to exercise. The Pole Physio can help with establishing a home based exercise routine through our online Telehealth services.
Online telehealth appointments can be booked with the Pole Physio via our ‘Book Online’ page that can be found here. Assessment and tailored rehabilitation are provided in accordance with best practice and evidence-based treatment to help you unleash your 'poletential'.
Until next time, train (& work) safe.
The Pole Physio
Chen, X., Coombes, B., Sjøgaard, G., Jun, D., O’Leary, S., & Johnston, V. (2017). Workplace-Based Interventions for Neck Pain in Office Workers: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Physical Therapy, 98(1), 40-62.
Korhonen T., Ketola, R., Luukkonen, R., Hakkanen, M., & Vikari-Juntara, E. (2003). Work related and individual predictors for incident neck pain among office employees working with video display units. Occupational and Environmental Medicine 60 (7), 475-482.