According to the CDC, back pain costs US businesses $225.8 billion annually in lost productivity. It’s the top contributor to off days and one of the most common workplace injuries. It’s also expensive to treat. The average outlay for a chronic lower back disorder is $100k, and over half a million workers file compensation claims for back pain each year.
Of course, prevention is better (and far more affordable) than cure here. So, what can you do to reduce your risk of injury and pain in the office? It’s all about ergonomics. Not only will a carefully considered layout of the right components and accessories keep your body moving correctly; it can also increase your productivity and overall satisfaction.
The following guide contains everything you need to know about creating an ergonomic home workspace that will help you avoid health problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome and repetitive strain injury. Let’s begin.
The Right Chair
As the surface you spend the majority of your day sitting on, it’s vital that you use a comfortable and ergonomic office chair. There are many well-designed options out there. Be sure to do your research and consider the below criteria before you buy, as these days, companies tend to use the word “ergonomic” loosely, and sometimes deceitfully.
- Adjustable height so that your feet can lay flat on the floor
- Breathable mesh or fabric material with sufficient cushioning
- Pivoting armrests that can be adjusted for height
- Natural curve or pillow on the backrest for lumbar support
- Tilt and recline functionality to reduce stress on your spine
In general, chairs with good adjustability are more likely to work for your body and preferences. To learn more about the components of the modern office chair, how it came to be and what the future has in store, check out this article on the Branch blog. They also offer an excellent range of ergonomic office furniture on their site.
Aside from the chair itself, remember to adjust your sitting position every now and then. This evens out your blood flow and relieves tension. If possible, you can alternate between two different chairs throughout the day.
The Right Desk
For most people with a home office, the desk is the heart of the workplace. When it comes to ergonomics, your main concern is height. A desk that’s too tall will strain your forearms, while one that’s too low strains the back and shoulders as it forces you to hunch down. Here’s how to determine whether your desk requires adjustment:
- Do your forearm and upper arm sit at an angle between 90 and 110 degrees?
- Can your legs fit comfortably under the desk?
- Is there enough space to cross them?
The Canadian Standards Association recommends a desk height of 73 centimeters, give or take 2.5cm depending on the chair you use and your own height. As with chairs, desks that can be adjusted are ideal. They allow you to change your position throughout the day. Granted, these kinds of sit-stand desks can be pricey, but are worth looking into anyway.
It might not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about office ergonomics, but monitor position is vital to preventing pain and fatigue. An improperly placed display can cause headaches, as well as neck and shoulder problems.
Since certain monitors are fixed to their stands, you might need to invest in an adjustable monitor stand. Alternatively, you can improvise with a stack of books or paper to adjust for height. Listed below are the key factors for correct screen angle and position. Your monitor should be:
- Angled between 10 and 20 degrees
- Placed so that the top line of the screen is roughly at eye level
- Standing at arm’s length or about 20 inches from your eyes
- Free of glare from lights or windows
You may also look into using computer glasses. Enabling the blue light filter setting on your devices is also a good idea, as blue light has been shown to increase eye fatigue and cause more significant damage in the long term.
Keyboard and Mouse
When it comes to your peripherals, start with placement. Correct sitting posture will allow you to measure where your keyboard should be. Your elbows are meant to lie in a natural position at your sides – not behind or in front of you. The angle of your keyboard should be 15 degrees negative. In other words, it shouldn’t tilt towards you, but rather away.
Depending on the height of your desk, you might find it better to place your keyboard on a drawer or tray beneath the surface. Not every keyboard will do the trick on its own, and the same goes for mice. Fortunately, there are countless affordable ergonomic peripherals to choose from, and it’s well worth the investment.
A Note on Laptops
With their growing popularity in the workplace, it’s important that we touch on laptop ergonomics. They might be sleek and portable, but they don’t lend well to adjusting for comfort and safety.
Your first consideration here should be a laptop stand, though this will come with the added need for an external mouse and keyboard. If your main issue is typing angle, then there are bed trays and laptop stands available for this purpose. That said, your best bet is to hook up your laptop to a more traditional desktop layout for extended sessions.
There’s much more to avoiding chronic pain, maintaining a healthy posture and preventing back injuries than having an effective home office setup. The issue also extends to your habits and behaviors outside of work.
Eating a healthy diet that reduces inflammation, stretching and exercising regularly, meditating and getting sufficient sleep on a comfortable mattress are all useful measures. Also, look into your work environment as a whole. It might benefit from the addition of a few plants, natural light and perhaps better organization.
As you can see, there’s a lot you can do to make your workspace more ergonomic. While these changes can take time to implement, they are well worth the effort.