Many people will continue working from home to minimize risk,avoid overcrowded commutes, and to help keep the progress to date in check.This presents its own issues, as many do not have proper ergonomic setups in their homes to work comfortably and efficiently. I have received plenty of messages from patients describing new pains caused by the sudden shift with pandemic work-from-home orders. Research shows that poor ergonomics account for more than 30% of worker injuries and illnesses in the United States and cost businesses upwards of $15-20 billion dollars annually! Poor ergonomics commonly result in musculoskeletal injuries that may cause pain, numbness, tingling or weakness and compromise productivity and quality of life. Common injuries include low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis), and tendinitis. Neck and upper back pain, eye strain and consequent headaches may also arise from staring at a screen for prolonged periods.
Sitting for as long as we do in our modern jobs is unnatural;we are simply not built to perch in front of a computer 8+ hours a day. This inevitably takes a toll on the body. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration(OSHA) describes how companies are responsible for providing a “safe and healthful workplace” for employees, including proper setups for their workers,education, and remedial procedures for ergonomic problems. (https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/ergonomics/) This is much more difficult as people navigate the work-from-home order that is indefinite for some. Therefore, you must assess your own home situation, review possible remedies for any areas that need improvement, and possibly reach out to your human resource department for help if you need an appropriate office chair, better monitor, or a standing desk.
In Chinese medicine, qi and blood must flow through the body unimpeded for good health to exist. Poor ergonomics, whether a chair that is too low, a laptop with a small screen, or a keyboard that is poorly positioned, may all affect the circulation of qi and lead to stagnation and pain. Stagnant qi is always present where there is pain. This can remain a local problem, or it may lead to more complex issues if the qi and blood cannot feed and nourish blocked areas. For example, carpal tunnel syndrome develops from chronic compression of the median nerve as it travels through the wrist to the hand. It is typically a repetitive strain/stress injury, meaning there is gradual damage to the tissue (muscles, tendons, nerves) from repeated motion of the wrist or poor positioning over a long period. The compression leads to numbness, weakness or pain in the wrist, arm, or the hand, where the nerve reaches. Eventually, the nerve may become permanently damaged, and surgery may be required.
Proper Office Egonomics, At a Glance
-Your monitor should be positioned so the top of it is at eye level and about 18-24 inches from your face; if possible, it should be slightly tilted
-Your chair should be cushioned with low back support; your feet should be planted on the floor and your knees should be at a right angle with the floor OR slightly lower than hip level (this takes pressure off your lower back)
-Arms should be parallel to the floor, shoulders should be relaxed, and the wrists should not have to bend much
Problems with Working from Home …and Solutions
-Seating: do not use your laptop for long periods while sitting on a couch or lying in bed! It might be comfortable, but your back will complain very quickly. Check the height of your chair. If your knees are higher than your hips, you must raise the chair or sit on a cushion that elevates your torso. If your chair height seems correct and your feet do not touch the floor,use a footrest or a stack of books under your feet for support.
-Laptops are not ideal: if you can get a separate monitor and hook it up to your laptop, that might help; or you can elevate the laptop monitor by using a laptop stand and buying a separate keyboard that allows for comfortable positioning of arms and head.
-Do not cradle the phone with your shoulder! Use a headset while on long calls or use speakerphone.
-Natural lighting will help prevent eye strain. If you feel that your eyes are irritated or you are getting headaches from looking at your monitor, take more breaks and switch to ambient lighting in your workspace (your screen should be the brightest light in the workspace). Change the settings on your computer’s brightness or get an anti-glare filter protector for your monitor.
-Breaks: taking breaks every 30 minutes or so is recommended, although this is hard to do if you are immersed in a project. If frequent breaks are challenging for you, set an alarm on your calendar at reasonable intervals to remind you to stand up and move. (Water and food breaks can help,and any snack or meal should NOT be enjoyed at your workspace. Keep these activities separate so that you can eat and digest in a healthy way, not while you are in the middle of a work project.)
-During these breaks, stretch out as much as possible: see link from Ergonomic Trends at http://ergonomictrends.com/best-ergonomic-exercises-stretches-office/