The Ergonomics of Working from Home

April 9, 2020

Written by Thomas J. Lotus, DC, FACO, Cert.MDT

The COVID-19 Pandemic has prompted most states to lockdown the majority of businesses. In response, many corporations have translated their business retention by having their employees to work from home. Though many organizations have long included remote positions for their employees, this is the first time in our lives we have been part of nationwide lockdown with many states mandating a shelter-in-place. This social distancing policy is incredibly powerful for the safety of our society, however, most employees have not thought of the consequences of conducting work from home without a dedicated desk and computer station that are ergonomically correct.

Being in the comfort of one’s own home, it will be tempting for many to use their laptops in beds, on couches or perched around kitchen islands. This makes many susceptible to risks. The consequences of not having a dedicated work-station are many—though one of the most significant is possibly contributing to a leading world-wide disability- back pain. This category includes both low back pain and neck pain as well as other musculoskeletal ergonomic conditions such as tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome.

To limit your risk of these conditions we recommend the following tips.

Consider the home/work environment

Find a dedicated space that can be utilized for work-flow.  Ideally, this is in a space that allows concentration, limiting background noises and temptations to “kicking your feet up” postures. It would be best to find a spare room, convert a basement or utilize a room that is newly dedicated to “work hours”. Another recommendation would be to have enough room in the space for proper chair selection, table-top/desk selection and the ability to stand and change positions to take "micro-breaks” throughout the day.  It would also be ideal to have good natural lighting that can limit strain on the eyes and be beneficial from a psychological/emotional perspective.

Consider the equipment

Most office workstations today are decent; though most people do not have adequate set ups at home, especially in situations like the present where a rapid transition was made.  One can invest in a new desk, adjustable table/desk, ergonomic chair, etc., or one can make simple and quick changes to the workstation with the utilization of things in the home.

  • Use of a good chair (if possible) or use of a firm upright chair and add a small pillow or rolled up towel behind the small of your back for support (ex: McKenzie Lumbar Roll).
  • Support the feet: One can use a book, box, step stool if feet do not touch the floor. Optimally, we want to be in an upright position, hips at 90 degrees and knees at 90 degrees flexion with feet flat on the ground.
  • Raise the monitor: Ideally, the eyes should be looking at the middle of the monitor screen. This quick fix will help from looking down at the screen which strains the cervical spine and thoracic spine (neck and mid back).
  • External keyboard and mouse: It is highly recommended that the monitor is separated from the keyboard and mouse. This allows the monitor height to be ideal, shoulder, elbow and wrist angles to be ergonomically correct and decreases the likelihood of ergonomic musculoskeletal conditions.

Maintain good posture

If sitting, it’s best to use postural correction with a pillow, rolled towel in the small of the back. This will ensure good posture for the low back which translates to the mid-back and the neck and shoulders. Shoulders should be relaxed and there should be no tension within the spine. If one has the ability to stand with a standing desk, try to keep good posture. It is recommended to utilize both strategies, sitting and standing. We recommend, if possible, to switch from positions approximately every 45-60 minutes.

Do not sit or stand too long

It is recommended to switch postures every 45-60 minutes. It is recommended to take short breaks from each position every 45 to 60 minutes and walk around the room and reach for the sky to stretch. Microbreaks from the computer is a very good spine sparing strategy.

Establish good habits  

Sunlight, long walks and exercise are ideal and highly recommended in all conditions.  Though working from home, it is important to set limits to the workday and to take care of one’s health.  Working from home can be overly comfortable if one does not set guidelines, it’s even possible to find oneself sucked into one room, one chair and never working!  Being sure to take microbreaks, move, stretch, walk around the block, go for a run, workout and move some weight is terrific for the whole body. There is a tremendous amount of research showing activity is great for overall health, and on the flip side, good physical activity increases work performance.

About Thomas J. Lotus, DC, FACO, Cert.MDT

Dr. Thomas J. Lotus received his doctorate in 2003 as a graduate of National University of Health Sciences where he specialized in rehabilitation and non-surgical orthopedics.  He is part-time faculty for the Lincoln School of Post-Professional Education. Dr. Lotus currently teaches courses around the country and internationally covering classification, non-surgical orthopedics, rehabilitation, biomechanics and pain.

Dr. Lotus holds fellowship status as a board certified chiropractic orthopedist (DACO) and sits on the Board of Directors.  He is also a candidate for diplomate status within the American Chiropractic Rehabilitation Board .