Millions of people transitioned into working from home to help thwart the spread of the coronavirus, and maintaining both comfort and productivity has no doubt been an issue for many. Although offices are slowly reopening, many employers will likely continue to maintain a remote work policy for a while — and if you’re not returning to the office yet, you should make sure your workspace is set up correctly.
In-office workstations are often designed around ergonomic considerations and long-term trial and error to ensure optimal comfort and health, but home workspaces can often fall short in this regard, says Kitsap County physical therapist David Damon PT, DPT, OCS, ATC.
“While it sometimes feels we’re all sacrificing right now to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, that doesn’t mean we ignore self-care,” says Damon, president and CEO of Kitsap Physical Therapy and Sports Clinics, which has seven clinics throughout Kitsap County. “That includes focusing on the hours you spend every day working from home, ensuring your workspace — whether at your kitchen table or at a desk in the corner of a spare bedroom — isn’t putting you at risk of pain or injury.”
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), injuries resulting from work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD) due to poor workplace ergonomics account for 34 percent of all workday injuries and illnesses.
Neck strains, pain in the shoulders or lower back, tendinitis, bursitis, carpal tunnel syndrome — Damon says these and other common ailments and injuries can be prevented in the workplace, even when that workplace is in your home.
“These are the types of injuries we associate with poor workplace ergonomics,” Damon says. “Sitting in fixed or constrained positions most of the day, often repeating movements with the arms, hands and wrists, can take a toll on your body, leaving you more vulnerable to injury to the muscles, tendons and nerves.”
In contrast, OSHA estimates that the implementation of proper office ergonomics can increase productivity by an average of 11 percent.
“As a rule, a comfortable workspace is great for productivity and morale,” Damon says. “Whether your work-from-home stint ends in weeks or months, it’s important to consider workspace improvements with an eye toward longevity.”
Damon offers the following basic guidelines for creating a safe and comfortable workstation:
- Set your desk, chair, keyboard and mouse in position so your hands, wrists and forearms rest in straight lines and run parallel to the floor. Use a wrist rest for your keyboard and mouse, if needed. Allow your upper arms to hang normally from the side of your body, elbows bent at around 90 degrees.
- Place your monitor at a height that keeps your head level (or bent forward slightly) and in line with the rest of your body. The top of your monitor should sit slightly below eye level and about an arm’s length away.
- Ensure your chair offers proper lumbar support, allowing for a slight inner curve of the lower spine.
- Keep your knees at about the same (or slightly lower) height as your hips, and make sure your feet can sit flatly on the floor. If they don’t fully reach the floor, bring in a footrest to support your feet.
- Take frequent breaks from sitting. Take time to stand up and stretch for a minute or two every half-hour or so. And, if you can, take a walk over breaks or during lunch.
If stiffness, soreness, numbness and pain persist, or you have a question about setting up a proper workspace in your home, contact the physical therapy team at Kitsap Physical Therapy and Sports Clinics to discuss options for an initial assessment.