How to set up a healthy home workspace
Is working from home becoming a pain in the neck? Nat Nicholson explains how to perfect your home workspace and protect your posture.
Doing anything for a long time will have an impact our bodies. Running a marathon will cause tired, achy muscles and blisters; lying in an uncomfortable position can lead to a cricked neck and the same can be said for sitting, looking at a screen for extended amounts of time.
Our work station set up is key in optimising our posture when working at a screen. If the screen is too low, we adopt a forward head posture and flexed spine. This leads to rounded shoulders, tightness in the chest muscles and an achy back of the neck.
By raising the screen to eye level, the neck is in a more balanced position and the spine is extended, opening up the chest.
Repetitive strain injury
It’s not just your neck, back and shoulders that suffer from a bad set up. Repetitive strain injury and carpal tunnel, which affect your wrists, are common injuries of a poorly set up keyboard and mouse position. Repeated anything in non-optimal alignment will have negative results on your body.
The keyboard should be at position where your wrists are in as neutral a position as possible, neither over-extended or over-flexed, and allowing a light touch with the keyboard. Make sure you are comfortable with your mouse and that it isn’t too big that your fingers are constantly overstretched and gripping it to work with it.
I’m used to spending much of the day on my feet so sitting is not my forte! During the first two weeks of lockdown, I was experiencing loads of discomfort in the middle of my spine (thoracic spine) after sitting at the computer for hours of time. To add to that I was sat on a hard wooden stool which gave my pelvis and pelvic floor muscles (an important component of breathing) no movement whatsoever.
So I grabbed my gym ball to replace my seat and sitting was now full of movement. With the exercise ball I can move all the time whilst sitting – rocking my pelvis forwards and back, shifting side to side – to keep my spine, pelvis, ribcage and skull mobile whilst I work.
The movement also fires up neural pathways that help improve the brain’s ability to focus. Balls have been used in special needs schools and with children with ADHD and ADD to help them concentrate in class, as it provides an outlet for their natural instinct to move. We are meant to move, so aiding this whilst sitting is really beneficial to our bodies.
Size wise the ball should be 10cm bigger in diameter than the height of your usual chair, but in general a ball of 65cm or 75cm should do the trick.
Standing desks are a great answer to combat the posture of sitting at a desk. Standing means that the body is constantly working to maintain balance on two feet and encourages movement, as opposed to the static postures we can adopt when sitting. It also opens up the hips into extension, lengthening the often shortened hip flexors and helping the big gluteal (bum) muscles to engage.
Standing desks themselves can be expensive but the idea can be utilised to create your own at home. I often swap work positions, away from my desk in the office, to work at the island counter in the kitchen so as to give my body a different experience and open up my hip joints to get my sleepy glutes awake.
Mobile phones and tablets
Mobile phones and tablets have become a big part of everyday life, and none the less so for our children. This one is a biggie right now as they navigate huge amounts of time at home and trying to connect to their friends.
Posture wise they have very negative effects on the neck and spinal positions. Being handheld, the devices are not set in an optimal position, leading the user take their neck completely out of alignment with the shoulders it should be aligned over.
This inevitably leads to neck strain and poor spinal mechanics. It also negatively impacts breathing by restricting movement of the ribcage, compressing the space for the lungs to fill to their capacity.
If at all possible, a well set up computer or laptop is preferential for calls, school work and gaming. But if this isn’t possible then I recommend a screen holder to prevent them slouching away on the couch. I have a great boom stand for my phone for client meetings. It means I can set it to eye level but swing it around the room when demonstrating exercises and movements.
Lockdown is an unusual situation for us all. But if you take some of these steps, you will be helping to protect yourself and your family from long-lasting damage.
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