Here’s Exactly How To Injury-Proof Your Home Office
When SA went into lockdown back in March, we traded office spaces for our homes, colleagues for family and work attire for baggy sweats. Dining rooms, living rooms, garages and dusty corners were transformed into makeshift workspaces. We gritted our teeth and got the job done. It was temporary, after all. But three weeks became five. Five weeks became months. And before we knew it, working from home became a new way of life.
Data from global advisory company Willis Towers Watson shows that even before lockdown, 52 percent of South African businesses allowed their staff to work from home. Commenting on the results of the survey, the company’s Director of Talent and Reward, Melanie Trollip said, “Working from home was already growing in popularity, but COVID-19 has forced it to become the new norm. That behaviour will not be unpicked once the lockdown ends, and businesses will expand their options around working from home.”
Since we can’t predict when we’ll be filing into high-rise buildings again, it’s time to rethink our makeshift offices. We spoke to biokineticist, Wendy van Wyk, who works for Ergonomicsdirect, a company that sells ergonomic equipment and offers personalised home assessments to help you improve your workspace, about why you should give your office an ergonomic facelift. “When your office isn’t built to keep you comfortable, you could be at risk of undesired effects such as repetitive strain injuries and you can actually increase your overall risk of mortality,” she explains. Carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, back pain and tension neck syndrome are common work-related muscoleskeletal disorders that are caused by the repetitive motions made while working as well as having to maintain
an awkward posture for long periods of time. These disorders can result in a decreased ability to focus, deteriorating mood and increased feelings of anxiety.
Whether you choose to overhaul your entire space or make some simple tweaks, we have you covered. Use this targeted advice to injury-proof your workspace.
Head and Neck
Your Ideal Posture: “Keep your chin up” is more than just good advice for getting through tough gym sessions. It’s also the ideal way to position your head when working. To avoid head and neck injuries, keep your head upright and in line with your torso.
Your Defence Plan: Whether you’re using a computer or a laptop, your machine should always be positioned at eye level or slightly below it. This will help you avoid eye strain and neck injuries.
If you’re using two monitors, make sure they’re placed in a central position on your desk. “This helps to keep your neck in a neutral posture, reduces eye strain and helps you maintain good visibility,” explains Van Wyk. Your monitor should always be 60cm away from your eyes, which is roughly an arms-length away. For those working on a laptop, Van Wyk recommends using a USB keyboard and mouse so that the monitor is always at the correct distance.
MH Recommends: MOFT Laptop Riser Stand Space
Equipped with two elevation adjustments, this laptop stand can be adjusted to your ideal height and posture. The built-in magnets make it easy to fold away quickly. Bonus: it folds flat to stash in a drawer or cupboard when the clock hits five.
MH Hack: While you’re waiting for your laptop stand to arrive, use a book, box or a stack of paper to raise your machine to the correct level.
Back and Legs
Your ideal posture: You shouldn’t be physically breaking your back during the daily grind in your home office. The best way to avoid lower back pain is to make sure your back is firmly supported. Sit with your knees at a 90-degree angle, with your feet flat on the ground. “If your chair is too high it causes your pelvis to twist which puts strain on your lower back,” explains Van Wyk. “If you chair is too low, your hip joints will have an extreme degree of hip flexion. This results in lower back pain.”
Your defence plan: The hard back of your dining room chair wasn’t made to offer support for a prolonged period of time. Instead you need an ergonomically designed chair that provides adequate back support. These chairs are often adjustable to allow you to adapt the chair to your requirements. “The more your positioning can be refined or changed, the better the likelihood of achieving the ideal position behind your desk,” says Van Wyk. But if you can’t get an adjustable chair, get a footrest to ensure your knees remain in an ideal position. This will take the pressure off your lower back.
MH Recommends: Soho Back Support
If you don’t have the space for another chair in your home, invest in this double winged backrest. The flexible plates adjust to the contours of your spine to ensure you maintain good posture. It’s fixed with elastic straps that fit on most chairs.
MH Hack: For added lumbar support, place a rolled-up towel behind your lower back. You can also use a box as a footrest to keep your knees in the proper position.
Arms and Wrist
Your ideal posture: Your arms and wrists play a bigger role in injury prevention than you might think. “When your elbows are just hanging, your neck and upper trapezius are constantly in contraction to hold them there,” explains Van Wyk. “This can cause neck and shoulder pain and lead to headaches.” Support your arms on your desk as you work, keeping your elbows at a 90-degree angle.
Your defence plan: Give your wrist joints a fighting chance by using a keyboard with a zero-degree slope – this prevents your wrists from bending continuously. Additionally, use an ergonomic mouse that will allow your hand to assume its natural position. This will eliminate the pressure put on your nerves. Use a mousepad to keep your mouse in one position. “Constantly reaching for it puts strain on your shoulders and neck,” says Van Wyk.
MH Recommends: Ergo Mouse Pad Wrist Rest Support
This mousepad was designed for ease of motion and to relieve joint stress. Its filled cushion supports your wrist, keeping it in a neutral position as you work. Thanks to the mousepad’s non-skid rubber backing, it will stay in place even during aggressive spreadsheet sessions.