Isolation ergonomics

Chartered Physiotherapist Jonathan Smith has some advice for all those struggling with working from home-related back and other pains.

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With all non-essential workers now working from home there has been a huge change in the way many people manage their working day. 

Working from home has been becoming more prevalent with the advances in communications over the last decade, but the decision to work from home has normally been instigated with thought, research and planning. Our current situation hasn’t allowed for that normal process. 

Here is my advice to try and make the best of your ‘new’ workplace.

You might not be the only one trying to work in the house and possibly alongside children trying to study. In this situation finding a work space for everyone, with adequate lighting but no glare, relatively free from noise and comfortable surroundings may take compromise. Decide what the most important feature of the environment is to you and base your decision of where to work around that.

The chair

There are some circumstances where a highly specialised ergonomic chair is required, but it’s not as important as the person sat in it. Ensure you have a chair with a back and adapt this to provide low back lumbar support as needed; and make sure the chair height allows you to sit with your feet on the floor and knees bent to approximately a right angle. Comfort is key, but it has to suit you personally

 The desk

A desk or table that you are able to sit at with your knees underneath is really important. If you don’t have this you won’t be able to sit upright with your arms comfortably flexed at the elbow to allow you to type. It should ideally be a table that allows you to have the screen at eye level and the keyboard comfortably close to your chest to allow your shoulders to relax and your elbows to bend in a right angle. A lot of us are working on laptops now so if you can elevate the screen and angle the keyboard you may find this a comfortable position. Ideally a separate screen, keyboard and mouse is advised, but may not be available.

Change of scenery

Modern workplaces are now designed with multiple areas to work in, differing in height of desk, different types of chair and maybe a different view. Thankfully, your home is already ahead of the curve, with kitchen work tops to stand and work at and, for short periods, a chair in a quiet area. Sitting with a laptop on your knee is generally considered bad for your posture, but for short periods in these strange times it is ok and as long as you compensate for this with regular stretching and strengthening exercises it is not going to cause long-standing health issues.

If you are able to stand and move every 20 minutes you will manage to be comfortable in most chairs for your working day and hopefully it won’t be long till we are all back to normality. My best advice is don’t sit in your chair for too long, move when you can and remember that you will be doing far fewer steps around the house, so for health (and sanity) reasons, exercise when you have a chance.

*Jonathan Smith is a Chartered Physiotherapist at MLH Physio.

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