We see you there, checking your email from the comfort of your couch. Don’t think we don’t see you, slouched down into that comfy cushion, back arched into a question mark, legs propped up on the coffee table, knees locked into place, eyes drooping.
We have two things to say to you:
1) You, reader, are officially living in the work-from-home dream. High five!
2) You also kind of need ergonomics.
Yes, ergonomics may seem like the kind of term you left behind in the traditional office space, but it’s just as important at home as it is in the office. (In fact, depending on how long you’ve been slouching into that couch, it may be even more urgent when working in the domestic sphere!). After all, if you’re still doing all of the same office tasks, all of the same risks remain — including carpal tunnel syndrome, back pain, eye strain, and the many conditions associated with sitting.
Where to begin? Let’s take a look at a few easy at-home ergonomic interventions that won’t break the bank.
1) Raise (or Lower) Your Screen
Feeling a pain in your neck and back? Eyes all blurry? How does your head feel? If you recognize yourself in any of these symptoms, you can probably put it down to a screen that’s not at the right height or length away from you. If your screen is too high or low, your neck automatically cranes up or downward to see it, which can lead to fatigue or pain that radiates across your musculoskeletal system. And if your screen is too close or too far away, your pupils are either too dilated or are straining hard to see what’s on the screen. Combine this with hours in front of the screen, and you’re highly likely to develop a condition called Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), otherwise known as eye strain, which can lead to red, itchy eyes and bad headaches.
To remedy these symptoms, it’s time to move off the couch and back to your desk. If you have a laptop or tablet, place it into a tablet and laptop stand and use it primarily as a screen (we’ll discuss the ergonomics of external keyboards in a moment). If you have a more traditional computer screen, either place it on a pile of books or buy yourself a movable monitor arm. Then adjust the screen so that it is an arm’s length away, and so that your neck is in a fully neutral position. Voila! You should now experience significantly less fatigue and pain.
2. Boost Your Feet
One thing most people forget about in their home office is their feet. Our feet and ankles already swell as we sit, and they do so even more when they’re not placed flat on the ground. What’s more, angled feet will also put a strain on your knees, which in turn can affect your entire musculoskeletal system. What to do?
Either adjust your chair so that you can rest the soles of your feet flat on the ground with your knees bent at a forty-five degree angle, or use a footrest. There are plenty of inexpensive footrests out there, but you can also make your own out of a milk crate or boxes.
3. Sit Up
Those finishing schools had it right: sitting up straight is great for your posture…and for feeling good. If you can’t afford an ergonomic chair, simply prop a pillow beneath your lower back to get the support you need as you straighten up (without this support, you’re likely to go back to slouching within a few minutes).
Even better, get yourself an adjustable desk that can be raised and lowered throughout the day. Pair that with a chair, a stool, and your own two legs to challenge your muscles into working in new ways. This way, you’ll avoid fatigue, even out your muscle tone, engage your core, and keep the blood flowing, all while still getting in all of the rest and support your body may need.
4. Walk and Pedal While You Work
If you’re willing to get a little more creative, there’s far more you can do than simply sit or stand there while you work. If you’ve got the budget, investing in a treadmill desk is an excellent solution, one that will keep blood flowing to your brain, engage numerous muscles throughout your body, and will keep you energized. Alternatively, there are also relatively inexpensive mini-elliptical machines and pedals you can work beneath your desk to keep that heart pumping. Best of all, they fold up easily and can fit in your closet where all of your formal office clothes have been sitting for months.
5. Change How You Type
Most of us pump novels of information out on our keyboards every day, and yet we’re puzzled when our fingers, wrists and elbow tingle or throb with pain. Ideally, you want to type with your hands floating naturally over your keyboard, with your wrists straining neither up nor down. This is next to impossible to do on a flat, straight keyboard like the kind you would find on a laptop. That’s why it’s important to go with an adjustable keyboard instead, so you can find the unique fit and angle for you. Fortunately, ergonomic keyboards are highly affordable, so whether you work for yourself or for a company, it should be well within your home office budget.
Ergonomics in the office may seem tricky, but it’s very doable with a little thought. It’s well worth it, too, even if it means getting off the couch.
How have you hacked your home office for ergonomic health? Let us know your best tips in the comments below!