You might be working remotely off the manufacturing site not really expecting an injury to take place. Day after day you work from the comfort of your home office, and, all of a sudden, you notice that your neck is a little achy, or your back is a little sore, or you might be starting to experience other symptoms like tunnel vision and headaches.
The worst part about repetitive strain injuries is that they often come unnoticed.
My name is Artem, and I run an ergonomics blog where I share posture-related tips and help people to live and work in more comfort.
Make Sure You Are Actually Comfortable While Sitting
This is a big, significant point that often goes unnoticed up until it is too late and the person in question develops some sort of musculoskeletal pain.
Being comfortable and staying comfortable can only be achieved if the chair you are using actually fits you and your frame.
First, the chair’s backrest must correspond to your back’s size. If you are a taller person, then you need a high back chair because only the high back will fully be able to support your spine while you are sitting.
Second, I recommend that you use a chair with comfortable and adjustable armrests. They will provide support for your elbows reducing the strain in the neck and upper back muscles. Having a set of armrests that you find comfortable is important if your work consists of a lot of typing, or if you are unable to use the table to support your elbows (usually the tables tend to be too low).
Third, it should ideally provide you with a form of lumbar support. It can either be adjustable or non-adjustable (also, there are a lot of chairs that do not provide lumbar support at all). Having adjustable lumbar support is usually better because you can fine tune it to fit you as much as possible. However, if you find the non-adjustable lumbar support option to be just right (and you are not planning to share the chair with anyone) then go ahead and use this chair.
If you are experiencing lower back issues then you can try an orthopedic seat cushion. It will help you to rotate your pelvis in a position that promotes good, healthy posture. It can frequently provide almost immediate relief as well. Here is a good review of the best seat cushions by MEC.
Get The Monitor to Your Eye Level
This is the second most important step you can take to improve your posture which, as a result, will improve how your neck and back feel.
All too often I see people slouching as a result of their monitors being placed far too below their eye level.
If the monitor is placed far too low, your head will be pointing downwards which shortens neck flexors (these are the muscles you are using when tucking your chin) and stretches neck extensors. This results in both of these muscle groups being overworked. The typical consequences of them being overworked are - neck and upper back strain, dull ache, burning sensation, tension headaches, poor breathing pattern, anxiety, neck and shoulder pain.
You would also develop an upper crossed syndrome that will further push you in a bad posture. Here is what it looks like.
How to adjust the monitor?
If you are using a PC then it’s easy - you can simply adjust the separate monitor or use a platform to lift it up as much as you need.
If you are using a laptop, you can place it on a bunch of books (or anything similar). That would bring it to your eye level! You can also get an adjustable laptop stand. First, it doesn’t cost that much. Second, it is quick and easy to adjust. Third, it is mobile and easy to bring with you in case you want to use it somewhere else.
Once you get a stand, I also recommend getting a separate keyboard and a mouse since you won’t be able to use the ones that come with the laptop (since they will be almost at your eye level). You don’t need to go for fancy ergonomic options here (unless you are struggling with something like carpal tunnel syndrome; then you can pick an ergonomic mouse and an orthopedic mouse wrist rest) but I would still recommend getting wireless models since they are less bulky and, again, are easier to pull out when you need them.
Use Pomodoro Technique To Make Regular Breaks
Making breaks from work and actually getting up every 30 minutes or so has been shown to reduce a myriad of negative consequences associated with prolonged sitting. It also drastically helps to improve productivity and reduce fatigue as you go through the day. This means you will have more energy and feel better - all while being more comfortable and productive. The only problem is that we actually don’t get up that often.
This is when the study technique that some students use comes into play. It is called Pomodoro.
The idea is to set your timer to anywhere between 25 and 30 minutes (I have it at 25), turn it on, and then just work until you hear the alarm. Then get up and take a break for the next 5 minutes. I usually just walk around and look out of the window for a change. Five minutes later I get back to work and do three more cycles of Pomodoro. That way I accumulate almost 2 hours of productive work which is broken down into 4 slots.
Yes, it takes getting used to but I find myself a lot more productive and comfortable when using this technique rather than sitting through for 2 hours without a break. And it is backed by research too.
Being comfortable and productive while working from home is not that hard.
First, make sure your eyes and your monitor are on the same horizontal level. Use books or a laptop stand to put it up if you need to.
Second, make sure that your chair is actually comfortable and, if it’s not, consider getting a seat cushion (or even a new chair).
Last but not least, take regular breaks! Get up and look out of the window. This will help you to get the blood moving, ease the eye strain, and just relax.