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Working from Home: Staying Comfortable, Productive, and Focused

04-23-2020

If you’re one of the many Americans suddenly working remotely, you may not have been prepared to create your own office space at home. Whether you have your own home office, or you’ve turned your kitchen table into your new workspace, there are ways to set yourself up comfortably to avoid neck and shoulder soreness, back pain, migraines, and even injury while working from home—and when you’re back in the office.

Taking time throughout the day to stretch may sound like yet another task you don’t have time for, but it’s worth it to keep away stress, headaches, pain, and even injuries. There are also preventative measures you can take to stay comfortable and focused throughout the day.

According to Erin Roosa, DPT, a physical therapist at Frederick Health, our bodies need physical support so our muscles aren’t bearing the burden of supporting our spine. Sitting on the edge of your seat with your spine arched or craning your neck to look at a computer on your lap is sure to cause pain—and possibly even injury.

Keeping your posture in mind is one of the key elements to remaining comfortable in your workspace. When sitting, make sure your back is fully supported by the back of your chair. You can even put a pillow in between your back and your chair to better support your spine. This reduces tension naturally, Roosa says.

Additionally, your feet should be placed flat on the floor and your lap should be level. The top of your monitor should be at eye level.

“That automatically sets the foundation for a better position for your head and neck,” says Roosa.

Stay Active

Sitting at your desk properly and keeping your posture in check is just the first part of staying comfortable while working. Roosa cautions workers not to sit longer than half-hour intervals.

“It’s so easy to get thrown into a project, even when you’re in a normal office setting,” she says.
“But you need to get up every 30 minutes, even if it’s just to stand or walk around for two minutes at a time.”

Roosa recommends setting a timer to remind yourself to get up and move. She also recommends walking for 10 minutes continuously, at least three times a day.

“This is enough to keep blood circulating to the muscles, so they don’t dry up,” she says.

Simple Exercises

You don’t need to plan a full workout routine during your workday, but Roosa recommends some easy exercises that can help you stay comfortable, focused, and productive.

  • Start by standing up and bring your head back like you’re leaning back to touch a headrest, then bring your head in alignment with your ribcage. Do this five times.
  • Sit up straight, and squeeze your shoulder blades together, like there’s a sponge in between your shoulder blades and you’re squeezing water out. Hold for five seconds.
  • While standing, place your hands at the small of your back, gently bend backwards, and hold for five seconds.

These simple exercises can act as a “reset button” for our posture.

“We’re so forward into our computer tasks that we need to reverse,” Roosa says. “You can function better after the reset.”

Stay hydrated

As always, drinking plenty of water throughout the day is also important for a multitude of reasons.

“The more hydrated your muscles are, the less likely they are to be stiff and painful,” Roosa says. “Dehydrated muscles lead to headaches, dehydration, and task performance delays.”

Not only does drinking water help you stay hydrated, it forces you to get up to use the bathroom—and that’s a good thing because it ensures you’re getting up and moving.

Comfort Tips for the Whole Family

If your child is participating in online learning, there are ways that the both of you can stay comfortable while at the computer.

“As a parent… you have to think about when you’re at the computer passively (like when helping a child with online learning),” Roosa says. “Your setup while guiding them at the computer matters.”

When helping a child with online learning, don’t forget comfort tips for working from home. Avoid craning your neck over their computer or standing above the computer looking down.

Additionally, children learning from home should practice the same comfort tips—this will set them up for better posture later in life, too. If your child’s feet don’t touch the floor while sitting, put a milk crate or box under their feet. If their spine doesn’t touch the back of their chair, put a pillow behind their back.

“If you’re teaching them better posture, it’ll help you with your better posture too,” Roosa says.

Working from Home: Dos and Don’ts

Do:

  • Sit with your spine touching the back of your chair
  • Keep your lap level
  • Keep your feet flat on the ground or on a footrest
  • Ensure your seat is long enough to provide support beneath your thighs

Don’t:

  • Cross your leg underneath you
  • Sit on the edge of your seat
  • Crane your neck down to look at your laptop
  • Lean forward with rounded back and shoulders

Overall, prevention is key. If you develop headaches or neck tension, consult a physical therapist—it’s important to address these issues before they worsen.