Ergonomic Tips for Therapists Working from Home
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Americans are now working from home and many have been for quite some time.
While we’re certainly grateful for the opportunity to keep our jobs, much of our population is now working in less-than-ideal ergonomic conditions as they work on their laptops from the bed, the couch, or kitchen table.
If your makeshift at-home workspace has become a literal pain in the neck, we’ve got some tips you’ll surely want to try.
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Start with the Right Chair
It may seem simple, but that’s because it is – one of the best ways to reduce long-term discomfort and muscle soreness is by avoiding putting your body in awkward positions in the first place. If you can adjust everything in your office to allow you to maintain the natural “S-curve” of your spine, you’ll find yourself much more comfortable.
The chair is the first thing that should be chosen and adjusted, then everything else should be adjusted around that foundation.
Here’s how to adjust your desk chair to maintain a neutral posture:
- Start with the height. When you sit back in the chair, your feet should sit comfortably on the floor or on a footrest.
- Adjust the chair back so the lumbar support is right below your natural waistline. If your chair doesn’t have lumbar support, you can roll up a hand towel or dishtowel to accomplish the same thing.
- Tilt the seat forward a little so that your chair is slightly sloping down toward the floor. This takes the pressure off your hip flexors and gives a natural inclination to sit up straight. If your chair doesn’t have an adjustable seat, you can use a flat pillow across the back of your seat to replicate this.
- If you primarily work on a computer, remove the armrests. Or, if you choose to keep them, make sure they’re adjusted so they allow your arms to rest naturally at your sides while you’re typing or performing other tasks from your desk. You want your elbows to rest comfortably at an angle greater than 90-degrees for healthy blood flow.
Alright, now that you’ve got your chair all set to help you maintain proper posture, let’s make sure the rest of your workstation is set up the same way!
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Assess Your Desk (and Everything on It)
The industry standard for office desks is 29 inches high, yet typical dining tables tend to measure at least one inch taller than that. Whether you’re currently working from a home desk or the breakfast nook, there are things you can do to minimize discomfort during this temporary situation:
- Start with the height and go from there. Again, you want your elbows greater than 90-degrees for most of the day to ensure proper blood flow. You also want to avoid bending your wrists upward as this can cause carpal tunnel syndrome. So, if you’re currently working on a taller surface, you can make up the difference by raising the height of your chair. If your chair won’t go that high, you can add some pillows or seat cushions to get yourself to the right height. If you do need to raise the height of your chair, though, don’t forget to get a footrest (or shipping box) so that your feet aren’t dangling under you.
- Next, try to avoid contact stress on your wrists, forearms, and elbows by using wrist rests like these for your keyboard and mouse or padding the full front edge of your desk with something like this.
- Place your monitor directly in front of your keyboard (and your body) at about one arm’s length away when you’re sitting all the way back in your chair. If you’re using multiple monitors (or even just one very large monitor), place them a few inches further back. Then, adjust the height so that the top of your monitor is about 3” above your head. This puts the top third of your screen right at eye-level. If you’re primarily working from a laptop, it should be raised off the work surface and used as a monitor only.
- Again, especially if you’re working from a laptop, get a separate keyboard and position it so that the “H” key aligned with the center of your body, then move it closer to the front edge of your desk so that your arms rest naturally alongside your body and your shoulders stay relaxed while typing. Adjustable keyboard trays like this one can also be installed under the desktop to ensure your elbows are always at an angle greater than 90-degrees.
- Also, make sure you get a mouse – don’t rely on your laptop’s trackpad – and place it directly next to the keyboard and on the same surface level (i.e. either on your desktop or on the keyboard tray). This will minimize awkward shoulder/arm movements and ease the muscles in your shoulders and upper back.
- Finally, if you commonly reference books or paper documents as you’re working on your computer, invest in a document holder like this one and place it in your direct line of sight behind the keyboard but in front of the monitor.
Follow the 20-20-20 Rule
Prevent eye strain by following the 20-20-20 rule – for every 20 minutes you spend looking at a screen, look at something else that’s at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
If you’re not sure whether something is far enough away, try looking at a tree outside your window. It’s better to look at something further away than something that’s not quite far enough.
This exercise gives your eye muscles the break they need which helps keep headaches at a minimum.
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Stand Up, Move, and Stretch
Sitting in one place for hours at a time is another sure recipe for muscle soreness. It’s important to vary your position and/or posture a few times throughout the day.
Here at Brighter Vision, we utilize sit/stand desks and quite a few of us didn’t realize just how much of a positive effect this had on our posture until we were working from home without them.
These desks can be a little pricey but there are many cheaper alternatives available too. For example, this desktop riser station can be used to accomplish the same thing for less than $100:
If you’re not able to convert the desktop of your home workstation to allow you to rotate between sitting/standing during the workday, no problem! Something as simple as standing up during conference calls/meetings and while you’re eating lunch can work wonders as well.
You can also relieve some of that tension with a few deskside stretches, like these:
Need a little help remembering to get up and move around throughout the day? Download a free break reminder app like StretchClock to keep you moving. This app even includes videos of simple, no-sweat exercises and stretches you can do right at your desk.
We hope you find these tips helpful when setting up (or simply adjusting) your home office space.
The key to ergonomics is to fit everything in your workstation to what works best for YOU. So, take these tips as a starting point and make adjustments where they’re needed to ensure you’re comfortable.
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