Whether or not you realize it, you probably have a home office. You might not telecommute, and you might not have a corner, L-shaped desk or a computer with dual monitors, but most likely, there is a place in your home where you browse the web, check Facebook, answer emails, update your blog, or write the next chapter of your 200,000 word fan-fiction novel. There is a place in your home where you spend a lot of time sitting down, facing a screen. You’re thinking about it right now, aren’t you?
The fact is, people are spending more time in front of screens than ever before. According to a recent BBC article, adults in the UK are now spending more time on devices than sleep, and the New York Times reports that statistics in the U.S. are similar. Studies have shown, and it’s not too difficult to believe, that people are not just dependent on their devices, but also emotionally attached to the connectivity that they provide.
“But,” some might say, “I’m not wasting time on my device. I’m forced to be in front of my screen for work/school.” This may very well be true, but whether screen time is due to stacks upon stacks of paperwork or due to an unhealthy emotional attachment to connectivity with the virtual world, the result, at least for the human body’s ergonomic health, is the same. If we can’t tear ourselves away from our screens (for whatever reason), the very least we can do is make sure that our “home office” allows for the body posture that is least harmful to our health.
Mayo Clinic says that the height of a chair should allow for feet to rest on the floor and for knees to be level with hips. A good chair also provides lumbar/lower back support. If your desk chair does not allow your feet to hit the floor, guess what - it's step-stool time for you! You should (preferably) have a desk chair with arm rests, and those arm rests should be used to keep your shoulders from lowering too far. What happens when you lower your arms too far for too long? It can, over time, lead to compression issues in the nervous structures in and around your neck, and stretch out muscles that need to be shorter to keep your shoulder joint mechanics on par.
Mayo Clinic also says that if one regularly uses a phone at the same time as a computer, the phone should have a headset so as to protect the neck from strain. Please, please, try not to hold your phone to your shoulder with your ear. We're all guilty of it sometimes, but efficiency comes at a cost.
The same article indicates that the monitor should be an arm’s length away and the top of the screen should be just below eye level. Where your keyboard should be depends on your diagnosis. Ask your PT for more information!
No matter how flawlessly a workspace is set up, joint health still relies heavily on correct body posture. In other words, we can easily find ways to sit in our ergonomically correct home office that are not ergonomically correct. Three few helpful posture rules are:
- Don’t slouch. It sounds obvious, but still difficult to remember!
- Center your body in front of your monitor/keyboard.
- Keep your thighs and knees level with your hips, if appropriate. And don't cross your legs!
If your back pain occurs when your back is bent, you want to keep your knees below the level of your hips. If your back pain occurs when your back is too straight, you'll want to keep your knees above the level of your hips. A good general rule for those who are just correcting their posture for prevention's sake is to keep the knees level with the hips.
Taking a break to move around, even if it’s just to stand up and walk or stretch, is not only good for the body, but it’s been proven to increase the ability to focus, to decrease fatigue, and to improve mood.
So, do your best to separate yourself from your computer, phone, and television when possible, and when you can’t find enough willpower to say no to Facebook, or when deadlines are approaching, do your body a favor and relax or work in a position and location that optimize skeletal and muscular health. Get up and move around. Our social media gal, Anna, gets 10 minute breaks for every 50 minutes where the students are required to get up and walk around to refuel their bodies. We truly aren't meant to sit at a desk for 8+ hours per day.