When the pandemic started almost a year ago, many people weren’t sure how to manage their daily lives as lock-down orders essentially turned homes into offices, schools, and gyms. As the restrictions loosened up, some companies began to open offices again, however, others are still encouraging a minimal on-site office presence, and some may never go back to the traditional office from pre-pandemic. While we’ve learned how to adapt to this new norm, some of our adaptations – our kitchen table turned conference room or couch turned office chair – may be the source of some new work from home pains.
Ergonomics is the study of people's efficiency in their working environment. At home and on the job, ergonomics can help you avoid injury and discomfort — and even increase your productivity. The goal of ergonomics is to make our places of work as safe, comfortable, and efficient as possible.
Have you noticed some new aches and pains now that you’re spending more time working from home? Many of those aches and pains can be attributed to ergonomic issues like poor posture, excessive repetitive movement, or improper lifting techniques.
Some of the negative effects improper ergonomics can have on your body according to the University of New Hampshire include:
- Neck pain
- Blurry vision
- Loss of focus
- Back pain
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
Many of us are guilty of improper desk posture, and it can affect everyone differently. While sitting at your desk you do repetitive keyboard, mouse, and phone motions while tilting your neck up and down in front of your monitor. Plus, your eyes are trying to adjust to the lighting. All of this, combined with continuously slumping your back, can lead to severe long-term conditions.
Tips to Improve the Work from Home Experience
While it may not be possible to have your office at home exactly like what you’re used to from work, there are a few tips to consider improve your work from home experience and reduce the risk for new pains and aches:
Secure some space. Try to find a designated workspace that is separate from your living space. While this is easier said than done, it helps promote a work-life balance and keeps work papers safe from accidentally being tossed (or colored on by your kids).
Use the right equipment. Make sure the tool fits the job and your body, whether you’re sitting at a desk, on a couch or chair, or working from bed.
Work at the right height for you. A too-low computer chair or a too-high kitchen counter can wreak havoc on your neck, back, and shoulders.
Keep items within easy reach. Extend your arms out on each side. Picture an imaginary arc in front of you from left to right. Place the supplies you use most often within that area.
Avoid repetitive movements and working long periods in one position. Alternate tasks and change your body position regularly. While you may not be able to get up and walk to your next meeting, consider walking around the house in-between tasks and stretch every 20 to 30 minutes.
Adhere to a schedule. While it may be challenging, scheduling your day so that’s it’s as close to your “normal” office schedule can be beneficial. Wake up at the same time that you normally do. Get dressed for the day and have something to eat. A routine will help you stay focused and be ready to start the day fresh.
Making the Best of It
If working from home is your new normal, you can make the most of it. Take advantage of the new commute to spend some extra time with your family or pets, use your lunch break to get outside for a walk, and take comfort in the new casual workwear.
If you are noticing new aches and pains, talk to your doctor. They can help evaluate why you may be feeling the way you are and can recommend you to a physical therapist for treatment if necessary.
Zachary Kurtz is a physical therapist with UPMC Rehabilitation Services. He sees patients at UPMC Muncy, 215 East Water St., Muncy. For more information, visit UPMCSusquehanna.org/Rehab.