Ergonomics is an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely.
With the coronavirus infection, our world’s new reality is many people forced to work from home. Not everyone has a home office and the challenge is to set-up an effective space that is safe and comfortable for productive work. Spaces within homes maybe limited - we may find ourselves stooped over a laptop on sofas or beds, awkwardly positioned on hard dining room chairs or exposing our arms and wrists to ill-placed keyboards. So, how can we create a suitable long-term work environment at home?
Here are simple ergonomic tips, to increase your comfort and reduce injuries, while working at home, whether it’s during a pandemic or not.
Maintain a good posture - for your back, shoulder, neck and arms
- Working on a laptop for a few hours in the weekend is easy but doing so on a 40-plus hours per week schedule can lead to back, shoulder and neck strain. An adjustable office chair can save you from lower back and neck discomfort.
- If the option of an office chair is not there, use some household items to adjust your position. Placing a firm pillow or a tightly folded towel under your buttocks will raise your hips and increase the curve of your spine, making way for comfortable sitting.
- Ensure while sitting - your back is against the chair, shoulders relaxed, forearms relaxed at 90-degreees angle. If you are using a hard wooden chair, stick a pillow behind your waist to give lower back support.
- Find a working height that allows your elbows to be in line with your table/desk height, this promotes better wrist alignment.
- Place your feet on a footrest, a step stool or boxes under your desk so your thighs are nearly parallel to the floor and your hips slightly higher than your knees. This will take pressure off your lower back.
- The top of the screen should be at level with your eye height. A separate keyboard and monitor really helps but if you cannot manage that, use a pile of books to raise your laptop to the right height.
- The computer monitor should be placed at arm’s length from the eyes - around 20 inches when you are using a small/laptop screen and further away as the screen gets larger.
- Our eyes are muscles that need to move regularly too. Follow the 20-20-20 rule - take a 20 second break every 20 minutes by looking at things at least 20 feet away. This will avoid eye strain.
- Room lighting - if it’s too bright, strain on the eyes increases or give you headaches, if it’s too dull, you may end up in an uneasy position, trying to read your screen. Avoid getting direct light on the monitor. If you’re working next to a window, preferably be at right angles to the window. Adjust the screen tilt to minimise the glare, to protect your eyes from fatigue and dryness.
Use of devices like smartphones, tablets, iPads
- Place the device directly in front of the body
- Focus on neck posture - avoid looking down, keeping the neck as close to upright as possible
- Hold the device properly with a straight wrist
- Use both hands to swipe, scroll, select items
Take stretch breaks
Don’t sit or stand for too long. At home, everything is at close proximity so we end up moving less compared to if we were in office. Make sure you move every 30 minutes - even if it is to a different room. This ensures that there is intermittent movement and change in posture, avoiding strain.
Listen to your body
Everyone’s body is different so pay close attention to the signals your body is trying to give you. If you experience pain, something clearly isn’t working. Therefore, take small steps to resolve that to protect your body. If we ignore the tiny aches and pains on our joints and muscles now, we may end up with long-term muscular and skeletal ailments such as carpal tunnel syndrome, inflamed tendons, muscle strains or shoulder and back injuries.
One of the lasting effects of a post-Covid world is more people working from home. So, people need to be mindful of learning to set-up their homes to be ergonomically safe, by themselves.
Dr Shruti Sonar
Head - Physiotherapy
Fortis Hospital in Mulund, Mumbai