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Natural Awakenings Twin Cities

Ergonomics for Healthy Work from Home

May 28, 2020 12:00AM ● By Lori Kurszewski

Many adults have been displaced from their normal working lives and are working from home on laptops in settings that are not set up for computer work. Additionally, spending more hours in front of a screen with video conferencing, all without the normal “walking commutes” naturally built into the workday, can result in headaches, neck aches, fatigue and eye strain.
Some simple ergonomic upgrades can help at-home workers be more comfortable when working on a laptop, leading to more energy to do the things they want to do, sleep better and get through their days with less aches and pains.

Environment considerations. If possible, a separate area for working hours is preferable. It allows the worker to settle into a routine and allows an acknowledgement that it is “work time” when entering that space. It also allows a physical separation for the end of the workday. When choosing a work location, natural and overhead lighting, without adding glare to the computer screen, can help in setting up a favorable working environment.

Work surface. Work surfaces can be a desk, table or something else to hold the laptop. There should be comfortable clearance of the thighs underneath the work surface, typically a few inches can be sufficient.

Chair and arms. Adjust the chair so when sitting at the work surface, the elbows are at a comfortable 90-degree angle when the hands are on the keyboard. The elbows and hands should be in a straight line to each other. If the hands are higher than the elbows when sitting at the work surface, raise the chair height or sit on a cushion, pillow or towel to help raise the body and to bring the elbow into a 90-degree angle. If the hands are below the elbows, use books or sturdy boxes to raise the laptop to a neutral position.

Shoulders. Shoulders should feel relaxed. When working on a laptop, that is at times difficult. Take frequent breaks, look toward the ceiling and complete pain-free shoulder rolls to help with shoulder discomfort.

Wrists and hands. Wrists and hands should stay neutral—not forced upwards or reaching down towards the keyboard. If a mouse or other pointer device is used, settings on the computer should be changed to allow for ease of movement of the cursor without excess side-to-side movement.

Legs and feet. If the feet do not touch the ground or if there is extra pressure on the back of the legs when sitting in the chair, use books or a sturdy box on which to place the feet while sitting. This will lift the thighs and help the legs and low back.

Back. A small, rolled-up towel or small pillow can suffice to support the low back while seated. Place the support just above the hip bone for true low back support, as that is where your lumbar spine begins. Adjust the depth of support if it does not feel appropriate.

Movement. Part of ergonomics is providing the body with posture breaks. Walking during meetings, moving up and down stairs, or changing position in the chair can all provide the body with position changes. This allows joint movement and increased oxygen flow to the muscles and joints, which can reduce the fatigue from sitting. If the worker has a stretching program they normally perform, those stretches can also work to bring oxygen back to the muscles and move joints.

Working from home is a great opportunity to maintain routine and income during the pandemic. At-home workers can further support their bodies and feel good by making small changes to support ergonomic, neutral positions. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has eTools available for further work station considerations at Osha.gov/SLTC/Etools/ComputerWorkstations.

 Lori Kurszewski is a nationally board-certified health and wellness coach, athletic trainer and certified ergonomic assessment specialist and is part of the Health and Wellness Collaborative (HWC) and owner of Healthy Connections Coaching, LLC. With over 15 years of industrial athletic training and over four years of health and wellness coaching experience, her expertise is in using a coaching model to guide health and wellness changes that allow individuals, groups and organizations to achieve their health and wellness goals. To schedule a virtual Ergo Coaching session or a general Discovery Session, call 612-298-3818 or visit HWCollaborative.com.

Read the full June 2020 Magazine