Working from home has its pros and cons. While you save time by not having to commute to an office and can often get away with wearing comfy clothes all day, there are some downsides – one being the aches and pains you may feel from the way you sit and use your computer while working from home.
Extended periods of sitting can take a toll on your joints and muscles. This is especially true when your workspace is the kitchen table, couch or bed instead of an ergonomically-designed workstation like you may have in the office. From lower back and neck pain to carpel tunnel symptoms, discomfort due to incorrect posture is a common complaint of people who work from home.
Don't let the comforts of home wreak havoc on your posture and cause temporary or chronic aches and pains. Follow these 5 tips when you're using un-traditional workspaces:
- Use a table or desk. It may sound like a dream to be able to work from your bed, lounge chair or couch with your computer on your lap, but this usually leaves your computer positioned in such a way that your body is at an awkward angle. Working like this for extended periods of time can result in back and neck pain, wrist soreness and eye strain. If you want to sit on a softer surface while you work, such as a couch, position your computer on a table in front of you, a stack of pillows or a lap tray to keep it at the right height and distance. Better yet, sit in a supportive chair that allows you to comfortably sit back in the chair. If the chair doesn't have enough back support, use a rolled-up towel or small pillow behind your lower back.
- Look straight at the screen. The position of your computer monitor plays a big role in how your neck feels. If your screen is too low or too high, it puts your neck at an awkward angle that may result in pain and tightness. Keeping your screen to the side makes you constantly turn your neck, which can lead to strain and soreness. Make sure your screen is at a comfortable viewing height – it should be directly at eye level. Use books or boxes to elevate the screen if needed or raise your chair. You should also view iPads, phones and papers with a straight neck.
- Rest your feet on a flat surface. Letting your feet hang in the air while you are sitting puts pressure on your thighs and hampers blood flow to your lower legs – increasing your risk of a deep vein thrombosis. It can also lead to lower back or hip pain. If your chair is too high and your feet don't reach the floor, put a pile of books or a footrest under your feet to allow for direct contact. Also don't sit for prolonged periods on a couch or bed with your legs crossed or positioned straight out in front of you.
- Don't overextend your arms or wrists. Carpal tunnel syndrome causes a nerve in the wrist to become compressed, which can be very painful and even debilitating. While the cause of carpal tunnel syndrome is often due to a combination of factors, activities that include overextension of the wrists – like typing – are often to blame. Extending your arms for long periods of time can also cause back, shoulder and neck pain. Avoid this by properly positioning your wrists, hands and arms. Keep your keyboard and mouse in front of you, close enough that your arm remains near the side of your body and your hand is level and straight. Take breaks from typing during the day and do a few hand and wrist stretches.
- Get up and move. Just as you need to periodically get up from your desk at the office to move your body, you need to be mindful of that at home as well. Take a walk around the house every hour for a few minutes. Alternate standing and sitting. Stretch. Changing positions and moving your body throughout the day will help you avoid aches and pains while working from home.
“If you work from home, it is recommended to have your work station set up to have everything you may need easily accessible," said Courtney Givens, MS, OTR/L, an occupational therapist with Maury Regional Health. "Changing your position every hour is very important. This could look like walking a few laps around the house, standing at a counter to work or moving from the couch, table or desk throughout the day. If you are on frequent phone calls, use the speakerphone or ear buds to avoid holding the phone between your shoulder and ear.”
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Date Last Reviewed: December 17, 2020
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor