Ergonomics: how to set up your home office

Posted by Jo Wigley on 22 September 2017

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Bad desk posture can cause musculoskeletal injuries of the neck, back and wrists, as well as headaches and migraines. So, whether you work from home, or you’re one of the 70% of New Zealanders who would work remotely if they could, there’s no excuse for not setting your desk up ergonomically.

How to set up your chair

For desk-based jobs, sitting for long periods of time is unavoidable, which can lead to lower back pain. However, if you adjust your office chair properly, you can support your back, legs and hips correctly and take the pressure of your lower spine.

*         For the ideal chair height, sit up straight in your chair and let your arms hang down by your side. Make a right angle at your elbows, keep your wrists straight and adjust the chair height so you can comfortably rest your arms on top of your desk in the same position. Make sure your feet are flat on the floor and your knees are level with, or just below, your hips. If they aren’t, use a foot rest.

*         If your chair has an adjustable lumbar support, make sure it supports the lower curve of your spine. And remember; just because your back is supported, it doesn’t mean you can slouch. Actively sit up straight when you’re working.

*         Your seat should support your hips and legs, as well as your back. So when you sit right back on your chair, make sure there’s about a 3-4 finger-sized space between the edge of your seat and the back of your knees. If there isn’t, chairs with sliding seats are a good option because you can set the seat depth to suit your body. 

How to adjust your computer monitor

The height of your screen, and the distance between you and it, is important. If it’s set too high or too low, you could strain muscles in your neck and shoulders. And if you sit too close or too far away from your screen, you might suffer eye strain, which can affect your sight and trigger headaches.

*         As a general rule of thumb, your computer monitor should be about an arm’s length away from you. If you use two monitors, put them side by side and centre them both equally.

*         Make sure the top of the screen is about 5–8cm above eye level when you’re seated.

*         Adjust the screen so your neck is in a neutral, relaxed position. And tilt it so there are no screen reflections or glares.

How to position your keyboard

*         Centre your keyboard directly in front of where you sit. Your shoulders should be relaxed, your elbows slightly open (100°–110°), and your wrists and hands straight. If they aren’t, adjust the height of the keyboard.

*         Depending on your seating position, set your keyboard so your wrists remain straight. If you sit forward or upright, tilt the keyboard so it faces away from you. And if you sit back in your chair, tilt the keyboard towards you. Remember to keep your elbows by your side at a 90-degree angle to the desk, so you don’t strain your neck and shoulders.

*         If your keyboard isn’t adjustable, try changing your desk or chair height to get comfortable.

Take regular breaks

Even after you’ve set up your desk, chair and computer screen ergonomically, sitting for prolonged periods of time still affects your joints and blood circulation. So take regular breaks.

*         Every half an hour, stand up for a two-minute stretch to get your circulation going. Remember to re-set your posture correctly when you sit back down.

*         After every hour of work, switch tasks for 5 or 10 minutes, or take a break if you can.

*         Step away from your desk at lunchtime. Not only is this good for your muscles and circulation, time away from your screen will give your eyes a well-deserved rest.

Whether you work at a desk for five days, three days or one day a week, it’s important to set up your workstation ergonomically, and to take breaks whenever you can. Not only will this increase your productivity and comfort, it will also prevent strains and injuries to your neck, shoulders, wrists and lower back, and ease the pain of current injuries.

If you’re already suffering from any desk-related pain, our team of osteopaths are perfectly placed to treat you and advise on home office ergonomics. Just give us a call to book an appointment.


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