Over the past few years many of us have turned our homes into both workplaces and hubs for connecting with the outside world. The widespread adoption of live video communication tools for meetings with colleagues and staying in touch with loved ones has become the new norm for millions.
However, this increased reliance on technology at home can lead to unwelcome discomfort or worsen existing physical issues. Our bodies are designed to move freely, not to be hunched over keyboards and screens all day. Numerous patients of mine who have transitioned to remote work have struggled to set up a comfortable and ergonomic “workspace” at home, resulting in a range of discomforts including carpal tunnel syndrome, shoulder and elbow pain, headaches, neck stiffness, and back pain.
Engaging in repetitive tasks from an unfavorable physical position can cause numbness, tingling, and pain in the hands, fingers, and arms. Common conditions include carpal tunnel syndrome (irritation of the median nerve at the wrist), cubital tunnel syndrome (irritation near the elbow of the ulnar nerve), and cervical radiculitis, where nerves originating in the neck and extending down the arm become irritated. Other frequent sources of discomfort include inflammation of tendons in the forearms attached to the elbow, known as epicondylitis, as well as muscle pain and tenderness in the upper shoulder and back of the neck.
Implementing some straightforward adjustments at home can have a significant impact—especially if done promptly, as once these issues set in, they can be challenging to alleviate. Here are some recommendations to consider:
For your chair:
- Set the armrest at a 90-degree angle between your elbow and wrist in relation to your torso.
- Add support to your lower back to maintain an upright posture with your head and torso in a vertical position.
- Ensure the seat’s height allows your feet to rest flat on the floor or on a footrest, maintaining a 90-degree angle between your thighs and shins.
For your workspace:
- Position your desk or table at a level that aligns with your bent elbows when typing. Your arms should not be angling up or down, and your wrists should remain straight.
For your computer screen:
- The top of your computer screen should be slightly below eye level to prevent your head from tilting up or down. You can easily adjust the height by placing books or magazines underneath.
- You should be able to read comfortably with your eyes positioned 18 to 28 inches from the screen.
- Remember to change positions frequently when working on the computer. Consider setting a timer to remind you to move or stretch every 30 minutes or so.
Consider using a headset for phone calls to avoid straining your neck by holding the receiver with your shoulder while typing.
Taking a picture of your workstation with someone’s help can allow you to assess your angles and posture and make any necessary adjustments. Taking a few minutes to fine-tune your work-from-home setup could be one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways to prevent or alleviate discomfort during the pandemic.
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