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Ergonomics in the Time of Covid

Since the beginning of the pandemic more people are working from home than ever. One report states that approximately 42% of working individuals are currently working from home, many of whom received little to no notice or do not have a home office set up. People have been using their ingenuity to come with with creative desk options albeit to the dis-service of their neck and back.

I have seen images of ironing board desks, those made out of skis, stacked boxes or books, people using make shift lap desks while sitting on the couch or bed, or working while holding an infant or pet. No matter your set up there are things we can do to improve your work station to lessen the effects on your neck and back during this already stressful, odd time in our lives.

Lets start with the computer screen.

Computer screen should be approximately 15-20 degrees below the horizontal gaze. This means that if you sit and look straight ahead (the horizontal gaze), your computer screen should be fully visible by looking down with your eyes, not your neck, by just a little bit.

For every inch that our heads are forward of our neck, there is 10 lbs of added pressure to our cervical spine. Over time this leads to a kyphotic posture (stooped over) and can cause neck pain and headaches. By improving the way in which you view your screen you will reduce these from occurring.

I suggest using a book or stable box to raise your computer height or finding a lower chair to work from. If you are using a lap top this can prove more challenging. You may need to purchase a tabletop laptop holders than will allow you to adjust and tilt the laptop so you can reach the key board comfortably while also keeping the screen at the good level for your neck.

Lumbar support is crucial for the low back.

Sitting on a soft couch on laying propped in up bed for extended time periods is grueling on your lumbar spine and low back musculature. It decreases the normal curve, designed by so many years of evolution to help your body sustain the load of your weight, which increased pressure on your joints, discs and muscles.

Wherever you sit, make sure you have lumbar support. This could be a small pillow or a rolled up towel/blanket. Shove that baby behind your low back, you will find that it some what forced you to sit up straight and will relieve the strain placed on your back by poor posture. Along with this, make sure you set a timer on you phone for 50 mins. Every 50 mins, even if you are still doing some sort of work, make sure you stand up, stretch a little, walk in a circle before you sit back down. Prolonged sitting can be irritating to the low back, our bodies are designed to move, not sit for hours on end.

Along with giving your back a little lumbar support, using a foot stool (or something to rest your feet on) will also provide your back with a little relief. It will also take pressure of the hamstrings and gluteal muscles which attach to the pelvis and therefore contribute to the low back. Again, get creative here. A couple of old college physics text books, a squatty potty, or a plastic storage tub all would work effectively.

Posture is also important to reducing back and neck pain. Often people will complain that sitting up straight is hard, that is only because the muscles are not used to it and have become overstretched and weak in some places and overly tight and stuck in others. Correcting posture like anything might take some time. Again another good reason to take periodic breaks. The longer you sit working on something the more hunched you become and the worse you posture gets as you are tired and strained from the posting. Make sure you reset your posture when you return to your station. What does good work posture look like?

Sitting up on your pubic bone versus back on your butt bone.

Having a small curve in your low back.

Shoulders back and down.

Head positioned without forward or side to side tilt.

Elbows at about a 90 degree angle

Wrists tiled slightly up so finger can access the key board.

Both feet flat on the floor or on footstool.

Knees, like elbow at about a 90 degree angle


By trying your best to maintain good posture, taking short frequent breaks and tweaking your at home work station you can reduce the frequency of pain and stiffness while working from home.

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