“People who don’t usually work from home who are now working from home — teachers, office workers, all types of people — I’m seeing them come in injured now,” says Colleen Mrowka, DPT, a physical therapist in Connecticut. “Neck injuries, arms and hands, carpal tunnel or what people think is carpal tunnel, low back pain, probably from sitting incorrectly all day — those are the biggest issues.”
There’s no substitute for an ergonomically optimized workstation. But if you’re unable to invest in the home office setup that will alleviate as much strain as possible from your job, there are work-from-home ergonomic hacks to help counteract some of the damage your body can accrue from repetitive motion or being in the same position too long.
Print out the infographic below and keep it near your workstation. This set of nine exercises and stretches can be done every hour and takes only five minutes to complete. Online timers like Stretch Clock can help you remember to take a break.
As you do these exercises, you should feel tension in the area being targeted. Stop if you feel pain. “If you repeat [an exercise] two to three times, that tension should be getting a little bit better,” Mrowka says. “But pain is not OK.”
Make the Most of Your Home Office Setup
Exercises and stretching help prevent certain workplace injuries — but ergonomics doesn’t begin (or end) there. Follow these tips from ergonomist Andre Arthur to make the most of your home office setup, whatever it might be.
- Get the best setup you can. Arrange your space to create an optimal workstation to the best of your ability. At minimum, position a keyboard that allows your wrists and forearms to stay in a neutral position and a monitor at or just below eye level. If you must choose between the two, invest in a separate keyboard and elevate your laptop so the screen is at eye level — your gaze should fall 2 to 3 inches below the top of the screen.
- Enjoy the flexibility of being at home. “Working from home, you can have many different workspaces,” Arthur says. You may find it better to move from space to space, even if none are perfect, simply because it changes your body’s default position. The point is to change positions frequently, so even if you stay in one workspace, change it around — take a sitting break if you use a standing desk, and vice versa.
- Stay neutral. Stand against a wall and notice how your body is aligned — back gently curved, shoulders back, ears over shoulders instead of jutting forward. This is neutral alignment. (Your upper body should stay in this alignment when sitting, with knees positioned slightly below the hips.) Even if you don’t take a full stretch break every hour, take note of when you break alignment — craning your neck, rounding your shoulders — and shift back to neutral.
- Know the difference between types of comfort. “I find that people are trying their best to be comfortable, but oftentimes it’s not the best position for you,” Arthur says. “Working in your bed or from a recliner chair or your island kitchen might be comfortable, but it’s not the most optimal workspace.” A workstation that supports neutral alignment should give the right kind of comfort — meaning that a cushy couch is out.
- Stay in balance. Your stretches and exercises should provide a counterbalance to the position you spend most of your time in. The exercises here counter the typical office position (neck craned, shoulders slumped), but your individual needs might be different.
- Use the chair. Let your chair and the floor “absorb” as much stress as they can as opposed to letting your body take the brunt. Use armrests and headrests if your chair has them, and keep feet on the floor instead of letting them dangle.
- Use the other hand. Switch your mouse to your nondominant hand when possible. Consider investing in a vertical mouse, which is designed to alleviate stress from the traditional mouse grip.