Over the past year, many of us have gone from working in a structured office environment to working in a makeshift home office. And while this shift has provided tangible lifestyle benefits for some, the fact that many of our home offices tend to be far more “home” than “office” has also resulted in significant physical challenges including eye strain and increased neck, shoulder and back pain. Since many of us won’t be returning to the office environment, at least not on a full-time basis, even after lockdown restrictions are lifted, it’s important to take a closer look how we can make our home offices healthier and more functional. If you’ve been experiencing increased pain and discomfort from working at home, here are five key changes you can make to help prevent your short-term pain from becoming a longer-term chronic condition.
1. Use Proper Lighting to Avoid Headaches and Eye Strain
It’s important to recognize that, for the most part, the lighting in our homes is generally not designed to support sustained periods of office work. And the wrong type, placement or quantity of lighting can lead to eye strain, headaches and even migraines. An ideal lighting setup incorporates as much natural light as possible. If you can, try to set your workstation near a window with the light in front of you – this will keep the light from glaring off of your computer screen and causing eye strain. When it comes to artificial light, it’s best to avoid fluorescent and overhead lighting. Instead, choose a mix of ambient and accent or task lighting. This is a softer choice that will illuminate your work area without casting shadows and forcing you to squint. It also mimics natural light which is easier on your eyes.
2. Make Your Workspace More Ergonomic
Ergonomics is about organizing your workspace in a way that maximizes your safety, comfort and ability to perform. While it might be tempting and even seem more comfortable to work on your couch or even from your bed, the fact is that our bodies need proper balance, alignment and support. Working from your couch or bed for any kind of extended period will not provide that balance, alignment and support and could lead to increased pain and injury. When setting up or reorganizing your workspace, consider the following:
- set your chair height so that your knees are level with, or just below, your hips
- sit with your hips as far back as possible in your seat and with your feet flat on the floor or on a footrest (if your chair needs to be elevated to match your desk or table height)
- include some form of lumbar support to keep your back and spine properly aligned
- ensure that your desk or table is set so that when your hands are on your keyboard, your shoulders are relaxed, your arms are at your side with a 90-degree bend in your elbows and your wrists are laying flat with no up or down angles
- position your monitor at eye level and arm’s length so your head is in a neutral position
3. Try Standing While Working
It has been said that sitting is the new smoking. This refers to the fact that repeatedly spending hours on end in a seated position presents some severe health risks including heart disease, diabetes, obesity and back/spine injuries. To avoid these risks, it’s important to alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day while working - just as sitting all day isn’t good for us, standing all day likewise presents its own health risks including back and foot problems. While there’s no perfect ratio of sitting-to-standing, a good rule of thumb is 30-45 minutes of standing for every 60 minutes if sitting. Of course, as discussed above, ergonomics is important and this applies to standing as well as sitting. After all, we don’t want to trade one health risk for another. One solution is to consider a specialized standing desk. These desks can range in price from $100 to $1,000, depending on the size and style. However, if cost or space doesn’t allow for that option, consider creating a raised workspace by stacking books or using shelves to elevate your computer and allow you to work while standing. Just remember to position your monitor and keyboard at the appropriate height and distance.
4. Take Regular Breaks
Taking periodic breaks is vital for both our physical and mental health. Physically, breaks help with increasing blood circulation, muscle stimulation and oxygen intake and they also give our eyes a much-needed break from the screen - assuming you don’t just jump on your phone. Mentally, periodic breaks provide a temporary separation from work that can leave us feeling refreshed and helps to prevent burnout. Consider scheduling a quick 5 or 10-minute break every 60 to 90 minutes. Obviously, what we do during these breaks will determine the impact they have. For example, doing some quick stretches, meditating, going outside for a quick walk, talking to a friend or family member, watering your plants or playing with a pet are all great options, but almost any activity can be beneficial.
5. Help Your Body to Help Itself
In addition to optimizing lighting, making your workstation more ergonomic and breaking up your work day, the most significant thing you can do to protect your health and increase your overall resiliency has nothing to do with work or working from home at all. It’s all about taking care of your body by adopting healthy habits and a healthy lifestyle. This includes things like getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, eating balanced meals with smaller portion sizes, maintaining a healthy body weight, limiting alcohol, quitting smoking and getting regular exercise. Of course, you don’t have to become a heath and fitness fanatic but adding just a few of these healthy habits to your life can make a big difference.
If you’ve been struggling with pain or discomfort, whether because of working from home or not, Physiomed can help. Contact us today and let us show you why, at Physiomed, Healthier Starts Here.