How To Pandemic Proof Your Home Workstation
With the rapid spread of COVID-19, many individuals are now working and studying from home. This has led to an increase in sedentary work levels and musculoskeletal disorders, including neck, back, wrist and hand pain. Musculoskeletal conditions are the most common health issues at work and have become an even greater concern due to the pandemic (1).
Using proper ergonomics can help decrease the effort exerted by your muscles that can lead to fatigue, muscle tension and pain. However, your body requires movement. If you maintain one position for a prolonged period, even if it’s “ergo-friendly”, you have less movement which can increase your risk of developing a musculoskeletal condition (6). Research shows that using alternative workstations during an 8-hour workday reduces sedentary time by 77 minutes (5). Less sedentary time means reduced body strain, increased energy levels and improved mental health (3). These benefits can be accomplished by setting up a 3-station cycle that you can easily rotate through during your workday.
The 3 positions you will rotate through are sitting, standing and resting.
1) Sitting – Use a cushion on your lower back to maintain your spine’s natural curve. Make sure your feet are supported and hips and knees are approximately 90° (you can add a book or stool under your feet if needed). Avoid poking your chin out as this increases strain on your neck. When your head is in good alignment, it weighs approximately 12 lbs. For every inch it moves forward, it gains 10 lbs (1). This can lead to muscle tension and headaches.
2) Standing – Sit-to-stand workstations allow you to alternate between positions by raising or lowering the desk height. If you do not have access to a sit-stand desk, get creative! Use a table, bookshelf, ironing board, kitchen counter, or stack a few boxes; whichever is easiest for you to move in and out of those positions. If you do not have a laptop, use monitor arms that can change height when you’re sitting versus standing. If you have a more complex workstation with multiple monitors, raise one monitor and use that one for standing.
3) Resting –Resting is acceptable for small doses at a time because you are resting your body. However, if you are in this position for too long, it increases strain on your body. Use whatever is comfortable for you: a couch, bed, or recliner chair. Make sure you use proper support by placing a pillow along your lower back for lumbar support, behind your neck and head for cervical support, and under your laptop if you are doing work to bring it up closer to eye level. If you are looking at your phone, place a pillow under your arms to offload your upper body muscles while keeping it at eye level.
Destabilizing your surface allows for small movements. This increases your metabolic activity by engaging your muscles and nervous system without distracting you from your work (3, 6). Unstable surfaces can be a cushion or pillow, a foam pad, folded yoga mat, a balance disc, an active sitting chair or a wobble board. You can also walk on a treadmill, cycle on a stationary bike, or walk around your home during certain activities, such as talking on the phone. Movement and exercise help release endorphins (your body’s natural pain killer) and adrenalin which will help your body reset and replenish your cognitive capacity when you return to work. Add movement by standing or sitting on an unstable surface.
Tips to keep in mind:
Use a timer – This ensures that you do not stay in one position too long. Do not spend more than 1 hour in any position. Try to set your timer for 30-minute sessions.
Take breaks! – Movement is the most beneficial way to replenish cognitive stores, reduce pain and boost your mood. This can be accomplished by increasing your heart rate through activity: walking or sprinting up a flight of stairs, performing squats, lunges or jumping jacks. You can do yoga or stretch. Maybe you want to reduce you muscle tension with a foam roller or lacrosse ball. You can also rest during this time; lie or sit with your eyes closed, performing deep breathing with no distractions. Break time can also be used to nourish your body with healthy food or hydration.
Think about how many hours a day you are spending working. If you can add a little more activity, it makes a tremendous difference. Try incorporating these tools into your home work station for one week and see how your body feels. It is always beneficial to have a health care provider perform a proper assessment to see what treatment options and exercises work best for you. At Choice Health Centre, we have a team of health professionals that work collaboratively to provide you with a tailored treatment plan to help optimize your function and improve your overall health and wellbeing. Call and book an assessment today!
- Fetsch, D. & Kratochvil, J. (2021). Prevention of Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders Among Individuals Utilizing a Home Computer Workstation. Occupational Therapy Capstones. 469.
- Davis, K. G., & Kotowski, S. E. (2015). Stand Up and Move; Your Musculoskeletal Health Depends on It. Ergonomics in Design, 23(3), 9–13. https://doi.org/10.1177/1064804615588853
- Gibbs, B. B., Kowalsky, R. J., Perdomo, S. J., Grier, M., & Jakicic, J. M. (2017). Energy expenditure of deskwork when sitting, standing or alternating positions. Occupational medicine (Oxford, England), 67(2), 121–127. https://doi.org/10.1093/occmed/kqw115
- Mullane, S. L., Buman, M. P., Zeigler, Z. S., Crespo, N. C., & Gaesser, G. A. (2017). Acute effects on cognitive performance following bouts of standing and light-intensity physical activity in a simulated workplace environment. Journal of science and medicine in sport, 20(5), 489–493. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2016.09.015
- Neuhaus, M., Eakin, E. G., Straker, L., Owen, N., Dunstan, D. W., Reid, N., & Healy, G. N. (2014). Reducing occupational sedentary time: a systematic review and meta-analysis of evidence on activity-permissive workstations. Obesity reviews: an official journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, 15(10), 822–838. https://doi.org/10.1111/obr.12201
- O’Sullivan, P., Dankaerts, W., Burnett, A., Straker, L., Bargon, G., Moloney, N., Perry, M., & Tsang, S. (2006). Lumbopelvic kinematics and trunk muscle activity during sitting on stable and unstable surfaces. The Journal of orthopaedic and sports physical therapy, 36(1), 19–25. https://doi.org/10.2519/jospt.2006.36.1.19