By Julia Guthart, OTR/L CHT

 Ergonomics Matter When Working During COVID-19

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 the 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.

man working from home with laptop on his lap

Man working at home on the couch


How Do You Work at Home With Good Ergonomics?

Image of sitting and standing workstations

Sitting and standing work station positions

In general, the bulk of your work should be “waist height” whether you are typing on a 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.

Standing at Your Computer

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?

Posture at Your Desk

First, find a good sturdy chair to sit in.

  • Feet: should be flat on the 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 your fingers.

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

Ergonomics Tips

  1. Example 1) you decide on your dining room/kitchen table: a chair is supportive, laptop monitor is at a good height for your 5 foot 2 frames; however, the 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 the brand.  How can you support your cordless keyboard? Use a Lap desk or computer laptop desk/cart or laptop 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 than 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. The monitor of the keyboard is too low and your neck starts to tighten up and becomes painful. Raise the laptop 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 a 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?

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 into how your body is positioned for your workday. Companies spend thousands of dollars in workspaces 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?

image of man with shoulder pain sitting in from of laptop on workstation

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

Even with proper posture and ergonomic setup, 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.

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Book an Appointment with The Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute Today!

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