Like many of us, when you got the word that you had to work from home for the foreseeable future, you quickly set up a very informal workspace at home. Now, you may be experiencing new episodes of lower back pain, shoulder pain, hip pain, sciatica, a stiff neck, or sore wrists.
Your new aches and pains may be the result of working from the couch all day or sitting in a rigid chair at the kitchen table. The good news is, with a few tweaks to your setup, you'll feel good as new.
Your home office is a pain in your neck - and maybe your back too
An informal "office" space in your living room, kitchen, or bedroom may seem comfortable for a day or two. But over weeks and months, it will wreak havoc on your body and create pain and posture problems. If you don't address the cause of your back pain and other aches and pains, they can quickly turn into excruciating and debilitating injuries. You may develop carpal tunnel syndrome, deep vein thrombosis, chronic muscle fatigue, and acute injuries to the tendons and ligaments in your neck and shoulders.
The good news is, you can avoid further pain and discomfort with a few adjustments to your home office. The position you sit in, the height of your monitor, and the angle of your hands to your keyboard all play a role. So does the chair you sit in and the height of your table or desk.
7 tips to prevent back pain and neck pain when working from home.
1. Position your monitor so that it's straight in front of you.
The size and height of your computer monitor matter. To keep your neck in a comfortable position, always look at it straight-on. Don't crane your neck up or down or hold your head at an angle all day trying to read text - those positions invariably lead to a world of neck pain.
Holding your head in an unnatural position (like looking down at a laptop all day) puts quite a bit of pressure on the muscles and tendons from the top of your head to your lower back, shoulders, and wrists. At first the result is a stiff neck. Later, it's excruciating pain. Invest in an extension monitor that you can raise to a height where you can view it straight-on all day. If you don't have a desk with a riser, use a stack of books, a heavy cardboard box, or anything to get the monitor up to the proper level.
2. Keep your wrists level
Always keep your wrists level when working with your mouse and keyboard. If you're sitting in a soft chair or on a sofa all day, your laptop or keyboard are definitely not at a straight angle to your wrists.
The nerves in your hands run through your wrists, elbows, shoulders, and neck. If the nerves become irritated at any point along that line, the result can be stiffness and pain, which can be excruciating. Repetitive motions at too high or too low an angle put a lot of stress on the muscles, ligaments, and nerves. Position yourself so your hands are always level over your keyboard. When using your mouse, keep your arms close to your side.
3. Ditch the wrist rest
Soft wrist rests seem like a good idea. Unfortunately, many add compression on the median nerve and the finger flexor tendons. The result can be carpal tunnel syndrome.
4. Invest in a good office chair even if you don't have a desk
Even if you're sitting at a table all day, invest in an adjustable office chair to take pressure off your lower back and hip joints. Posture is important: you should never slouch, hunch forward, or sit bolt upright. Your office chair should support the natural curve of your back and your lumbar region (the curve of your lower back).
When you sit with proper posture it keeps the pressure off your intervertebral discs and supports your body weight naturally. When you sit back in your chair, you should still be close enough to your workstation so that you can easily reach your mouse and keyboard and have some of your weight supported by the back of the chair.
5. Get your feet on the floor
When sitting for long periods, the position of your feet matters. They should either be flat on the floor or on a foot support. If your feet don't reach the floor, and you don't have a foot support, use a box or a pile of books to support them. If you tuck your feet under your chair or let them dangle, you'll place pressure under your thighs, restricting blood flow to your lower legs and feet. This increases the risk of blood clots in your legs and may lead to deep vein thrombosis, a very serious condition.
6. Avoid working in bed
When you wok in bed, you'll most likely support your laptop on your legs, which is too low for viewing. That means you'll be hunched over. If a bed is your only option, invest in a low table for the laptop so it can be a few inches above your legs. That way, you can work at a comfortable height without straining your neck.
7. Don't work at a standing desk all day
Many health-conscious people want to avoid being sedentary, so they work at standing desks. For short periods, this is can be helpful. But scientists who've studied people who work at standing desks discovered that standing all day puts more strain on the circulatory system, the legs and feet. This strain increases the risk of varicose veins. Whether standing or sitting while your work, it's best to take breaks every 30 minutes and move around - take a short walk outside, play with your dog, get a glass of water.
The key to avoiding back pain when working from home is to pay attention to the position of your body. Following these 7 tips will save you quite a bit of back pain and visits to your doctor.