Overcoming home office challenges

by Eoin Roe, Chiropractic

Office ergonomics in the home is now something that many more people have to consider. The most important thing to be aware of in this situation explains chiropractor Eoin Roe, is that sitting all the time is not very good for us. Getting up and moving around is far more important than what you are sitting on and has a huge influence on your overall health.

I don’t want to scare you but sitting has been associated not only with cardiovascular mortality risk but also mortality from all other causes (Stamatakis et al, 2019). So if you find yourself sitting in front of a computer for work and then moving from there to sitting in front of another screen i.e. the play station or TV, it would be a good idea to change this habit.

The good news is you can mitigate the effects of sitting with moderate exercise. One of the benefits of working from home is that you should be able to find the time to add exercise into your daily routine, as you no longer have to commute. For most people walking will provide enough exercise. Aim for 40-60mins per day of walking at a good pace, preferably up and down hills. If you just don’t like walking then running, swimming, cycling, dancing or any other physical activity is fine as long as it makes you breath a bit heavier and gets your heart rate up and you do it daily.

Interestingly a Stanford study in 2004 found that walking increased creativity both during and shortly afterwards (Opezzo & Shwatz, 2004). So going for a walk before work or taking calls whilst walking may actually improve your problem solving ability and make you more productive.

Some other strategies that may help you reduce the time sitting are to invent reasons to get up. Just by standing you will increase the amount of calories you burn. Standing desks are becoming very common and also, even more interesting, desks that can be adjusted from sitting to standing for different tasks. If you have the space and think that working from home will be a more permanent situation for you then making an investment into the right equipment will pay off. I find that many people leave this decision too late and end up with a standing desk because they are already suffering with back or neck pain. 

Here are some ideas that will help you to reduce your sitting time:

– Every time you answer a call get up and walk around whilst on the call.

– Put printers or other things that you need access to away from your desk 

– Set up to take your Zoom calls whilst you are standing

– Perhaps the simplest – set an alarm and walk to the kitchen to get a glass of water every hour.

I know that everyone’s situation is different but hopefully I have got you thinking about ways you can increase the amount of activity you are doing whilst still being able to get the work done.

Secondly a good seating position will reduce the amount of effort it takes to sit up straight and reduce pain and discomfort.

A seat with a good back, screen at eye height and a key board just below elbow level are important so you may find it challenging if you are trying to work at the dinner table.  

By far the most important thing to get right is seat height. I would encourage you to use a seat height where your knees are slightly below the level of your hips and your feet are on the floor. This will have the effect of tilting your pelvis forward, which will help you maintain the natural curves in your back. You will therefore be able to sit straight with much less effort. If you sit on a seat that is too low, you will have to use a lot of muscular effort to sit upright. That is a battle you might win for 30 minutes but you will not be able to sustain for the day.

Obviously the ideal is to have a seat that has an adjustable height; if you don’t have an adjustable seat, just use a cushion, pillow, rolled-up towel or anything to raise your bum up and get a slope down to your knees. You can buy wedge cushions that will do this for you; they are normally either eight or 11 degree wedges. If you are trying to convert a flat chair, like a dining chair, eight degree wedges are usually fine; 11 degree wedges are good for the car where the seat may already be tilted backwards. If doing this means that your feet can’t touch the floor then you will need to find something to rest them on, this can be anything but needs to be solid, for example something like a block of timber.

Third most important is screen height. A desktop screen can be raised to eye level by placing it on top of a secure shelf made from blocks of wood. If you are working with a laptop screen, height is more difficult. The problem with laptops is if you raise the screen the keyboard goes with it; the best solution to this is to get a separate keyboard so that you can raise the laptop to eye level and have the keyboard at a more relaxed height where your wrists are lower than your elbows when typing.

The last thing to say is that if you are finding yourself tightening up in your shoulders neck or back then something is wrong and your posture may be aggravating this – take it as a clue to look at what you are doing, make some simple changes and see if this goes away. If it doesn’t, then seek help. In my experience poor posture is rarely the cause of a problem but will definitely aggravate one, so if you have an underlying neck or low back issue, getting them resolved will make posture less of an issue.

If you would like an appointment please call 087 9582362; I am available in Skibbereen at Market Street Clinic.

WCP Staff

WCP Staff Writer

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