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  • Writer's pictureDr. Mary Collings

Importance Of Ergonomics When Working From Home

Home has been your Sanctuary, but now it’s your office. As we approach the oncoming weeks with the anticipation of returning to our “regularly scheduled programs” but accepting that we might be working from home and continuing to practice social distancing, it might be time to understand the importance of ergonomics when working from home. Even without a world crisis, I have many patients come in with complaints that have occurred due to sitting on the sofa with their laptop, or in a “make-shift” desk situation using the ottoman in front of the sofa. There are a few simple things that can help provide some much-needed posture improvements without big adjustments.

We have all heard of “tech-neck” which is a result of looking down at our devices which causes a change in our cervical curvature that can lead to many complaints such as numbness, weakness in the arms and hands and just simple pain. So, sitting in the easy chair with your laptop on you lap and looking down for 4-6 hours during a work from home day isn’t going to help our situation.

I recommend sitting at the dining room or kitchen table. At least we are starting with a solid surface and usually simple chairs that don’t have arms. This allows the ability to sit up at a nearly 90’ position. I like the arms to be at 90’ to the body if possible. An external keyboard is most helpful for this situation so you can put the laptop or the monitor higher at eye level (or a bit higher) while keeping the arms where needed. Most of my patients have heard me say (more than one time) the importance of sitting with a wide stance. I suggest to them “sitting as if they are on an exercise ball”. That way you are always balanced. It helps on the getting up and down as well. When you stand from a more balanced position you can keep the head directly above the tail end. When you stand from a position with the legs together, you tend to pitch the head forward and put an undue stress on the lower back and hips.

For those of us who enjoy sitting on the sofa while working, it is best to at least sit upright on the sofa cushion with a small table or taller ottoman in front of you. (think old fashioned tv tray). This will allow the balance position with the wide stance and keep posture more upright.

Those of you that have a functional office space in the home are a step ahead. That is if it set up correctly as well. Again, I recommend the arms to be at 90’ first and foremost. So, this might require having a chair that can be raised or lowered depending on the desk height. Again, the balance position with a wide stance is beneficial.

I have had the opportunity to assist a couple offices with their ergonomics lately and the first thing I do is take a picture of them sitting at their desk. It’s amazing when they see themselves, they quickly realize what’s hindering their posture. Almost everyone has their monitor too low. I prefer it to be just above field of vision. Usually this requires most of the monitors to be raised about 4-5 inches from desk height. I like the keyboard to be close to the edge of the desk so the arms can remain at 90’.

I am a big fan of the YoYo Chair by X-Chair.

It is a stool that is designed to simulate sitting on the exercise ball. So, it provides that balanced position without the big bulky ball that you have to constantly air up. (and it doesn’t roll away when you get up). I also like this stool because it doesn’t have arms, so one less thing to lean on causing poor posture. (think car console and the common lean-to on it with the elbow).

Now let’s talk about the standing desk. I prefer them to sitting but it is important to learn to stand correctly as well as sit correctly. Again, 90’ arms are a must. If using a laptop on the standing desk, the field of vision will be way too low unless you have an external keyboard. So, providing an external keyboard will allow the monitor of the laptop to be raised to above eye level.

It is also important to keep the pressure off of the joints while standing. Dr. Eric Goodman, the Founder of Foundation Training taught me a most valuable lesson during one of his certification seminars.

Stand with feet so the pinky toe and the heel make a straight line (think a little pigeon-toe), then soften the knees. You will be amazed at how everything will line up. Ear over shoulder, shoulder over hip, hip over ankle. This allows all the pressure to be on the muscles NOT the joints. This is similar to the golf stance for those of you that play. By keeping the knees soft or lightly bent, it allows the power to come from the muscles, therefore getting more distance on the ball.

Thanks to my new best friends at Goop, I have added a “Happy Light” to my desk area as well. This is a great addition to for any of us that spend too much time indoors or when the sun is in short supply! It is a full-spectrum, non-UV light that supports mood, energy and sleep patterns.

[click the photo to see the happy light]

My patients hear me say over and over “don’t sit like a taco”. This refers to that folded up position that most of us get when sitting at the computer or desk. Dr. Tim Brown, my mentor and good friend, always ends his ends lectures as well as his correspondence with “Stand Tall”, I just add, “not like a taco!”

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