How to Make Sure Your Work-from-Home Setup Isn’t a Pain in the Neck

Working remotely? You’ll want to do everything you can to make the situation as comfortable as possible—and that all starts with your workstation. An ergonomic work setup is recommended as a way to help stay productive and pain-free throughout the day. But how, exactly, do you set up an ergonomic workstation in your home—whether you’re working from a home office, squeezing a desk into your bedroom, or setting up shop at your kitchen table?

Why is an ergonomic workstation important?

Before we jump into how to set up an ergonomic workstation, let’s talk about why ergonomics are so important in the first place. “When situated in front of a computer most of the day, the body pays a price, including posture,” says Dr. Derrell Blackburn, D.C., Senior Manager of Chiropractic Relations and Training at The Joint Chiropractic. “When sitting, the hips flex, shoulders hunch, the chest caves, and the head drops forward, shortening and tightening the body’s muscles. As a result, the body begins to compensate and create postures that may be more comfortable, but do come with risks.”

Your body will eventually adapt to these postures—and can cause serious issues in your body, including chronic pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, and postural changes. “Over time, muscle tightness can lock into place, creating pain and reducing mobility,” says Blackburn.

An ergonomic workstation can help to alleviate those issues by supporting “natural, healthy posture and maximizing efficiency,” says Blackburn. By customizing your workspace (for example, adjusting the height of your computer screen or the angle of your arms while using your mouse), you can minimize your risk for injury and pain—and make your experience working from home less uncomfortable and more productive.

How can you make sure your work-from-home setup isn’t a pain in the neck (or back…or anywhere else), when shopping for new office furniture isn’t always an option? 

Use your library to elevate your computer screen

Having your computer screen at the right height while you work is one of the cornerstones of an ergonomic workstation; your screen should be at or just below eye level so you can avoid straining your neck by looking up or down.

But if the surface you’re working on doesn’t give you quite the height you need (for example, if you’re working from your kitchen table), there’s a simple solution—and you can easily find that solution on your bookshelf.

Blackburn recommends “stacking some books already on hand to ensure the computer screen is at or just below eye level to avoid looking down.” Not only will the books elevate your computer screen to the proper level, but it’s also an easy and portable solution—so if you need to move your workstation throughout the day, it’s simple to recreate your ergonomic setup.

Keep things at the right distance

Height is an important part of building an ergonomic workstation—but so is distance. If you’re having to reach to the far corner of your desk every time you need to move your mouse, it’s probably too far away. Ideally, you want to keep your arms at a comfortable 90-degree angle while you work.

“Keep your mouse and keyboard relatively close—shoot for a 90-degree bend in the elbow with the forearms right at desk height,” says Blake Dircksen, Doctor of Physical Therapy at Bespoke Treatments. “Wherever your hands end up on the desk is where your keyboard should be, and right next to that should be your mouse.”

Sit properly

Even if you set up your workstation perfectly, you can still put yourself at risk if your sitting posture is not-so-perfect. So, how should you be sitting while working from home? “Keep the back straight to avoid leaning forward or straining the neck,” says Blackburn. “Use a footrest if the chair is too tall. This could be anything easily found around the house, like a stack of books, a pillow, or even an empty box that may be laying around.”

Not only will sitting properly at your WFH workstation help keep pain and other body issues at bay, but it can also help to improve your overall posture. “Maintaining certain body angles will help predispose someone to better posture,” says Blackburn.

Make a DIY standing desk

Sitting properly is great—but if you really want to support your body, switch things up and try standing for a while. “Standing while working…supports the strengthening of the spinal curves and its natural weight carrying function,” says Blackburn. “While standing you are also incorporating your pelvis, which balances the spine and adds another component of ergonomic support to the ‘S’ shaped curve of the spine that acts as a spring and dampens the force of any gravitational impact and repetitive force.”

If you have a standing desk at home, great! But if not, no worries—all you have to do is grab your laptop and your ergonomic workstation supplies and scope out some higher real estate in your home. “See if you can move your workstation to a stand-up spot, perhaps at a kitchen counter while it’s not in use for cooking chores,” says wellness design consultant Jamie Gold, author of the upcoming Wellness by Design: A Room-by-Room Guide to Optimizing Your Home for Health, Fitness, and Happiness.

Get up and move

Setting up an ergonomic workstation is important—but so is stepping away from that workstation throughout the day. “Sitting at a desk for hours, even in the most supportive chair [or setup], isn’t healthy,” says Gold. “Get up at regular intervals and move around.”

“Every 30 minutes or so you should be out of the chair—walking, bending, twisting, getting blood flow and nutrition back to the spine, upper, and lower body,” says Dircksen. In addition to getting up and moving regularly, make sure you’re also taking time to stretch while you’re working. Taking five minutes to give your shoulders, back, and neck a good stretch can make sitting (or standing) at your workstation a lot more comfortable throughout the day!

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