By Julia Guthart, OTR/L CHT

Working at home can cause pain if you do not sit with proper posture and have a proper ergonomic set up.

Man working at home on the couch

Working During COVID-19: Ergonomics Matter

It has been 6 months of living through the Covid-19 Pandemic and working from home. Are you experiencing neck pain, elbow pain, wrist pain, numbness and tingling in fingertips yet? Are you still using your laptop on your coffee table?! Safe to say, you are probably not in the best working posture at your laptop at home as compared to at work.  Below is a review of proper ergonomic work surfaces and ideas to use items around your home to help raise or lower these surfaces.


How Do You Work at Home With Good Ergonomics?

It is important to maintain good posture while working. Changing positions can help throughout the day

Sitting and standing work station positions

In general the bulk of your work should be “waist height” whether you are typing on keyboard, or chopping vegetables.  When standing this would be countertop height; however if you are shorter than average, this countertop may be too high; and if you are taller than average, this countertop is too low.  Working at your kitchen countertops may not bother you because you are not there 8 hours every day.

However if you stand at your laptop on your kitchen countertop, the level may be perfect for your keyboard, but this surface is too low for your monitor to maintain good ergonomics.  You may end up with excessive neck flexion (and pain/strain or fatigue).  If you sit on your couch or easy chair, you are too low and this causes excessive low back and hip flexion (which can lead to pain/strain or fatigue).  If you stand at a “bar” height surface, this may be too high for the keyboard  and your shoulders and elbows and neck feel the pain/strain or fatigue; but it may be a good height for your neck and monitor. What is a person to do?

First find a good sturdy chair to sit in.

  • Feet: should be flat on floor and your hips and knees at about 90 degrees.
  • Head: should be in line with your body, not slightly turned to the right or left (this will bother you by end of 8 hour day) to view the screen. You should be about an arm’s length away from your screen.
  • Upper body: shoulders should be relaxed; are they up at your ears?  Then you are probably sitting too low. Elbows and arms should be close to the body and the hands should be floating above the keyboard. If your keyboard is too high, your wrists will bend back too much and you may experience elbow pain and numbness/tingling in fingers.

Keyboard and mouse: should be directly in front of you, mouse to the right on same surface as keyboard for good ergonomics.

  1. Example 1) you decide on your dining room/kitchen table: chair is supportive, laptop monitor is at good height for your 5 foot 2 frame; however, keyboard is too high.  Lower the keyboard by using a separate “cordless” keyboard at lap height (actually just above the lap height).These are about $25 to $45 dollars depending on brand.  How can you support your cordless keyboard? Use a Lap desk or computer laptop desk/cart or lap top table. The point is for under $100 you can adjust your “home office” space to provide better ergonomic alignment. It is much less expensive to purchase these then to need physical therapy or occupational therapy for work strain issues in the long run.
  2. Example 2) you decide to stand at your kitchen countertop. Monitor of keyboard is too low and your neck starts to tighten up and becomes painful. Raise the lap top by placing several  reams of paper below your laptop, or find a sturdy box or phone book (if they still make these things).
  3. Example 3) you set up at your home bar and sit on barstool. However, now your feet are unsupported. Place a box or plastic crate as a footrest to keep your low back supported.  The monitor is at a good height but the keyboard is too high? Use a rolling computer cart to bring the keyboard and mouse level lower for better ergonomics.

How Do Protect My Body From Injury When I Work At A Desk All Day?

Walking is a way to stay active when you work at a desk all day. This is especially important during COVID-19.

STAY ACTIVE. When you worked outside the home, you may have had a half mile walk to and from the parking lot. Now that you are not leaving your home, build in a mile walk EVERYDAY. Also, keep doing your exercise routine. These are important for mental health and stress relief as well as developing your “dad bod”. Don’t like to walk? Put on your favorite music and dance like no one is watching for 15 minutes. Stay active, stay healthy, stay happy.

You owe it to yourself to put some thought in how your body is positioned for your work day. Companies spend thousands of dollars in work spaces that are adjustable to decrease sprain and strain on the human body. By taking  a moment to rig-up your home office, you will reap the benefits.

What If I Have Pain When I Work At A Desk All Day?

Even with good ergonomics, pain can still happen at a workstation.

Man with pain from working at his workstation

Even with proper posture and ergonomic set up, injuries can still happen.  That’s why the Jacksonville Orthopedic Institute offers many convenient locations to get you on the road to recovery. During COVID-19, we understand that it may be difficult to get to the doctor.  That’s why we offer ASAP appointments and telehealth visits if needed.  To learn more about how JOI is helping to keep you safe during COVID-19, go to JOI4U.

To schedule an appointment with one of our Orthopedic Doctors, call JOI-2000, schedule online, or click the link below.

Book An Appointment with a JOI Physician

Image of Book An Appointment with a JOI Physician Button 

Skip to content