Regardless of industry, and for many that has meant making do with the kitchen bench, the dining room table or god forbid – the sofa.
But even without the luxury of a dedicated home office, there are some really easy ways to WFH like a boss without compromising your health and overall wellbeing.
While some professionals will spend more time than others seated at a desk, we’re all using devices of some sort to communicate with friends and family whenever we get the chance (thank you, Zoom trivia nights) so it's critical to ensure you have a supportive home office atmosphere to facilitate these all-important connections.
‘Ergonomics’ really isn’t the sexiest term out there and the moment I mention it to my clients and patients, I see their eyes glaze over. However, Ergonomics really is your best friend at the moment. It’s got your back. Literally. No amount of massage, dry needling, foam-rolling or joint cracking will help you long term, but a few simple tips and tricks will make your home office a space that your body will a breeze and your body will thank you for it.
If you’re slouched, sitting too upright and overloading muscles or contortioned into a pretzel whilst you tap away at your keyboard, you’ll end up overloading structures in your body, under-using others, creating imbalances and therefore pain.
But when you adapt your workspace at home to be more ergonomically sound, injury risk is reduced and productivity is increased, it is win-win. An ergonomic set up is actually quite easy and can be cheap as chips as you’ll have a lot of the required furniture already at home.
1. Sit back and relax
Use your chair for all its capacity, sit right back and relax. If you are able to use an office chair and adjust the backrest, I strongly advise becoming familiar with its functions and allow a more relaxed recline, around 110 degrees is ideal. This helps reduce the pressure in your lumbar spine and discs. Otherwise any dining room chair with a back support is recommended. The old school thinking of ‘sit upright and tall’ is not only out dated, but it actually can cause more havoc on the body than what we thought because gravity will always win. When you try and sit up and tall you are actually causing your postural muscles to be overactive, which in turn will cause them to fatigue quickly and you will just end up slumping forward again, and the uphill battle against gravity begins again.
Stretch tip: When sitting on your chair, think of your pelvis like a clock. Your sits-bones are in the middle (at 9 and 3 o’clock) try a slow and controlled pelvic tilt forwards and back (12 and 6 o’clock), then side to side (9 and 3 o’clock) this helps redistribute the pressure in our lower back.
2. Heads up
Your head weighs about 5.4 kilos, every 2.5cm that chin pokes forward as you look at your screen, your head gets about 4.5 kg heavier. So peering forward at that email can make your head weigh up to about 19kg. That’s some heavy lifting and those upper trapezius muscles and postural stabilisers are doing in order to counteract the weight of that head. Looking down at your laptop for hours on end is best avoided. Turn your laptop into a proper workstation by propping it up on a few books, a wooden crate or even a shoebox and get your hands on an inexpensive keyboard and mouse. This way you’re allowing a more neutral spine and head posture, opening up your chest and having the screen at eye-level ensuring a reduced load on your upper postural muscles.
Stretch tip: Throughout the day, give yourself a double-chin, hold for 3-5 seconds and release. Try this about 10 times throughout the day. This just helps reset those deep neck flexor muscles and relieve the pressure of the prolonged posture we adopt staring at our computers
3. 20:20(:20) vision
Every 20 minutes, look 20 meters away for 20 seconds. Our eyes are fixated on our computer screen or down at our phone dozens of times throughout the day and then we switch over to the TV for some downtime at the end of the day. Because we aren’t in the traditional office space at the moment, we don’t have as many distractions or people to talk to that will naturally break up our sustained ‘at desk’ postures and focus. But by setting a timer for every 20 minutes or building this habit into your day to day, you’ll give your eyes a much needed opportunity to refocus and break away from the screen.
4. I like to move it, move it
Your best posture is your next posture. Try to move a little, a lot. Fidgeting can be your friend. If you can take a phone call do it standing up or take your laptop over to a bench and turn this into a standing desk at home. Your body will thank you for it. This concept is called non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) and is the catchall term for activities like fidgeting and can reduce any undue strain from sustained postures throughout the day. Try to get up every hour and move around the house, drink that little bit of extra water so you’re getting up more for the bathroom (and most importantly keeping hydrated) and even use a waste paper basket in the next room.