Don’t let your home office be a pain in the neck

As more people work from home, the design and ergonomics of the home office takes on greater importance in order to prevent heath problems. Danny Gocs reports.

For many it’s a dream come true, but health experts warn that spending hours at a desk in front of a computer in a makeshift home office can result in problems such as a sore back, neck pain, eye strain and headaches. Physiotherapist Jason Lee, director of Malvern East Physiotherapy, says good design and ergonomics along with the correct advice can ensure a healthy and hassle-free home office.

“The key elements in a home office are an adjustable swivel chair, a desk with enough space, the computer screen at the appropriate height and good lighting,” he says.

“Many people suffer lower back and neck pain as a result of working long hours at a computer without the correct posture and without taking regular breaks. If your chair is old or poorly designed, it could be contributing to lower back pain.

“Don’t sit for long stretches – plan a break every 45 minutes to an hour. Set a reminder on your phone or computer to stand up, take a walk and stretch your legs. Not only will these breaks help you return to work with renewed focus, but they will also keep your body healthy.”

Tips to improve your home office:

Phone use

• Use hands-free where possible, such as speakerphone or headphones

• Avoid wedging the phone between your shoulder and ear.

Choosing a chair

• Adjust the height to allow your feet to sit flat on the ground or on a foot rest.

• The depth of the seat should be sufficient to allow two to three fingers between the front of the chair and the back of your knees.

• The tilt should allow your thighs to be parallel to the floor and your knees at 90 degrees or greater.

• Arm rests are optional, but should be out of the way when typing. They can be utilised for resting during other tasks such as making phone calls.

• Avoid bucket seats that tilt you backwards or seats that tip you forwards.

• Your chair should be positioned so that your computer screen is one arm’s length away from you, with your eye level with the top third of the screen

Choosing a desk

• This should be high enough so that your forearms can rest on the desk comfortably.

• It should also be large enough to ensure you can fit one or two screens.

• If you use a laptop for a prolonged period, buy a laptop stand and use a separate keyboard and mouse to avoid a hunching position with your head bent.

• Ensure that the keyboard can be placed on the desk with enough room to allow your forearms to rest on the desk.

• Variable-height or stand-up desks allow you to alternate your working position between sitting and standing, which can help reduce back pain. Before buying one, check that there is enough space in the room.

Lighting

• Natural or artificial lighting should not create glare off the screen or on working surfaces.

• Avoid placing the computer or screen directly in front of a window.

• Utilise a desk lamp for spot lighting for specific tasks.

 

“Sitting properly at a desk means having your back straight or reclined slightly, your forearms and thighs roughly parallel to the floor, and your feet supported by the floor,” advises Lee.

“Your wrists and hands should be in line with your forearms; having your wrists cocked upwards is bad. Your head should be level, with your eyes looking slightly downward to the middle and top of your monitor.

“Shoulders should be relaxed, not hunched up, with your upper arms hanging naturally at your sides.

“Even with the correct posture and good chairs, desks and lighting, it is most important to walk around regularly and take small breaks every 45 to 60 minutes to enjoy a healthy home office.”

Image: Chernetskaya/Dreamstime.com.