In this time of social distancing from COVID-19, many individuals have been forced to work from home. Learning how to assess your home work space and the prolonged positions you will endure will help prevent future pain and dysfunction. Below, our physical therapists have outlined the assessment process for your posture when working from home and how to properly train your posture during this time.
Assessing your home work space
First step is to decide where you will set up your work space. Do you already have a home office? Are you going to be using your kitchen table? Living room space? Couch or bed?
Overall, the home office arrangement with desk and computer is most ideal for setting up the space ergonomically. A close second is the kitchen/dining room table which allows for firm services and continued customization of space to hold your body. Lastly, couches and beds are less than ideal for long term work areas, but we will cover a few ways to get more out of that kind of space.
Once you decide where you will ultimately sit, there are some questions you should ask yourself in regards to your temporary set up.
Equipment setup for your home office desk or kitchen/dining room table (most ideal)
- The seat and back of the chair should be adjustable either up/down or forward/backwards in order to accommodate the space you are using.
- If not, then you may need to find certain items (ex. foot rest, pillow, towel rolls) that can help place different your body into the proper sitting posture
- If not, you may also be able to buy an adjustable chair which can be manipulated easily to help guide you into proper sitting posture.
- Your feet should be fully planted on the floor from toes to heel.
- If not, you might need to find a foot rest, box, or a way to lower the chair.
- Your back should come in full contact with the back of the chair and there should be no pressure behind your knees.
- If not, you might need to add a back support (ex. pillow) to bring your knees forward so there is no pressure on the nerve/blood vessels that run down behind the knee.
- You should have chair armrests.
- If not, you can either add pillows or a rolled up yoga mat underneath your arms, otherwise you can always purchase a chair with armrests.
- Your keyboard, mouse, and desk should be all at elbow height while sitting.
- If not, then you may need to raise/lower each of these items.
- Your work surface should allow you to rest your wrist, hand, and forearm in a neutral position (straight line between all three regions).
- If not, check seat height, angle of back of chair, check keyboard, mouse, and check posture.
- Items that you use frequently should be easily reachable (arms reach).
- If not, arrange these items so they are closer in proximity to your work station.
- You should be using a mouse instead of the touchpad on your laptop.
- Buy a mouse and try to switch from dominant to non-dominant hand often in order to give the muscles in your hand a rest.
- Your screen should be directly in front of you.
- If not, then reposition the screen closer so your line of sight is even with the screen.
- If you have to use multiple screens then try to keep them close together as possible and try to angle your trunk and head together towards the screens you use most often.
- Your screen should line up with your eyes or at most 10 degrees below eye level.
- If not, reposition the screen lower if possible or raise the height of your computer by placing it on top of a box.
***If you are using a laptop, then adding an external keyboard and mouse will allow for you to keep the set up more ergonomically sound.
Assessing your ideal posture
This process will take observing how your feet line up on the ground and moving systematically upward at each segment until you reach your head.
- The bottom of your feet should lay flat on the ground or foot rest (if needed) and parallel to each other.
- The angle between your foot and your shin should be 90 degrees.
- The shin should be vertical and perpendicular to the floor.
- 90 degrees of bend in your knees and kneecap should be right above where your foot meets your shin.
- Exception: there are times where a chair in front of you will allow for you to alternate resting your foot with it producing a straight knee position.
- You may alternate switching left and right foot resting upon the higher foot rest (every 15-20 min).
- Your Thigh should be parallel to the floor and lay flush against the seat of your chair.
- When your thigh meets your trunk there should be a slightly greater than 90 degree angle when sitting.
- Neutral rotation in your hips.
- There should be no rotation in either hip as seen when someone sits cross-legged.
- Avoid crossing your legs.
- Have Equal pressure on both sides of your buttocks.
- Should be sitting on your pelvic floor (groin region).
- Avoid sitting back on your tailbone as it may cause discomfort
- See link for information on sitting on pelvic floor
- Lower Back
- There should be a slight curve (towards the computer) in your lower back and neither a more curved or straight spine should be accentuated other than when performing obligatory movements for comfort and stretching.
- You can use a small, rolled-up towel or a lumbar roll placed behind you to help maintain the normal curves in your lower back.
- Lumbar Roll website.
- Mid back/Shoulders
- Here it is important for you to just ever so slightly squeeze your shoulder blades together towards your spine, letting them then relax.
- Use the cue “ bring the bottom of each shoulder blade towards their respective opposite hip”.
- As a result it will set your shoulder blades in a more comfortable position while straightening your mid back at the same time
- Helps keep your head and neck stacked on top of your whole spine and not in a forward head posture.
- Most individuals get into the habit of moving into a forward head posture where their chin juts out towards the screen and the back of their head angles downward.
- This places undue stress on the muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints of the neck and upper back.
- Use the cue “ Imagine a string attached to the top of your head that pulls you up towards the ceiling while slightly tucking your chin towards the back of your head”.
- Maintain your neck and head in a neutral position facing forwards with no rotation or sidebending.
- At most rotation of 10-15 degrees is admissible if your work screen is a bit large.
- This puts less tension on your neck muscles that help rotate your head and neck.
Equipment setup for working at the couch/sofa (moderately ideal)
The biggest issue when sitting on most couches/sofas is how deep the seat back is in relation to the length of your legs. Most individuals will not be able to sit all the way back on their couch without having their feet come off the ground which can put excessive pressure behind your knees and negatively affect your spinal alignment. Below are our physical therapists recommendations on how to sit at your couch or sofa appropriately.
- Place enough pillows behind your back to bring your knee off the edge of the couch and feet flat on the ground.
- If this isn’t possible then sit on the edge of the couch with your upper body directly on top of your pelvis and buttocks.
- The spot on the couch where your buttocks sits might be too soft so putting a firm pillow under your buttocks or a piece of cardboard may make it easier to sit more erect and position your hips and knees in the correct alignment.
- Some couches also angle the individual backwards into a more reclined position and again using a folded pillow to bring your upper back and shoulders to a more vertical position is ideal.
- If you find your knees are up rather high and causing an uncomfortable stretch, you can extend them in front of you, or cross them at the ankles and let your knees roll open to each side.
- Laptop placement may be difficult in this position. Most coffee tables will not be high enough to rest a laptop on and have your upper body in the correct posture.
- Investing in a tv dinner table to allow for the proper alignment of shoulder to elbow to wrist and an upright mid back.
- Another option could be resting your laptop on top of a pillow that sits on your lap, thereby raising the screen level and reducing strain on your neck.
- Most couches do not have armrests on both sides and often are too high to be able to use appropriately for your laptop.
- Use a less thick pillow on top of your thighs to be able to rest your elbow and forearms in a flush fashion.
Equipment setup for working at the bed (least ideal)
This area is the location least recommended for your work space but if it’s your only choice then there are few things to help keep your posture and your body from suffering. Below are our physical therapists recommendations on how to sit in your bed appropriately.
- The biggest issue is the head of the bed.
- The head of the bed should be present and flush against a wall so that you can prop yourself up in a more upright and as close to a seated position as possible
- Raise the head and foot of the bed up as much as possible if you have an adjustable bed.
- Prop yourself up with pillows behind your back to put your spine in a vertical position with your spine stacked on top of your pelvis.
- We recommend using a detachable keyboard and setting it on a lap desk or pillow and supporting your elbows and arms so the wrists are straight when extended.
- A rolling table or extendible arm can be helpful, so you don’t have to flex the neck downward more than 15 degrees which may be uncomfortable.
- If you do not want to invest in or have this item (rolling table) then folding pillows under your elbow and forearms will suffice.
- Place a pillow under your knees to help keep the lower leg joints in a more relaxed position.
- ~30 degree bend in the knees.
- It is not recommended to sit in bed with your legs crossed.
- It can lead to more strain on the joints, tendons, ligaments, and muscles of your lower extremities.
It is important to understand that these tips and suggestions are here to guide you along your path to comfortable working from home. However, do not forget that at the end of the day exercise and movement are still the most important factors in keeping yourself mobile and most likely out of pain or stiffness. Physical therapy for posture will also help you alleviate some of the pain from bad posture, and also help in correcting it. So, even with setting up all of these work spaces as ergonomic as possible, it is still recommended to get up every 30 minutes and stand/walk/whole body stretch for at least 5-10 min in order to keep your muscles/joints/ligaments/tendons warm and flexible.
If you have any further questions, think you’re in need of physical therapy for posture, or want any further evaluation of you sitting at your home office or workspace, our therapists at Health Loft are here to help you via video-conferencing, telehealth, or in-person physical therapy. Remember to also check out our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages for more fun facts and articles on nutrition, physical therapy, and exercise!
Written by Dustin Passigli PT, DPT, OCS, MA Edited by Alexander Franz Reviewed by James Caginalp PT, DPT, CSCS, CES, PES
- Phillips JA, Forrester B, Brown KC (1996). Low back pain: Prevention and management. AAOHN J, 44, 40 ± 51.
- https://www.ors.od.nih.gov/sr/dohs/Documents/ Computer%20Workstation%20Ergonomics%20Self %20Assessment%20Checklist.pdf