As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are finding themselves working from home–with very little notice to prepare. Some without a dedicated home office are using coffee tables, recliners, kitchen tables and counters, and any number of other surfaces and locations as makeshift workspaces. All can potentially lead to aches and pain.
Scott Donkin, DC, DACBOH, and Scott Bautch, DC, DACBOH, ergonomics specialists and members of the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) Council on Occupational Health, are accustomed to making recommendations for their patients’ traditional workspaces, but they also understand that in times of unexpected change people must find ways to adapt quickly.
At the start of the pandemic, the two doctors noticed that many of the workers forced to go remote were working on laptops, which was contributing to their musculoskeletal issues. Here are their suggestions for making a home workstation work with your laptop:
- Pick a spot. If you do not have a regular desk at home, working at a kitchen table is generally much better than sitting on a couch with your laptop on your lap.
- Adjust your seat. For those without an ergonomic chair, use a seat wedge to help maintain better posture. Sitting on the wedge makes you tilt your thighs forward and down, which causes you to arch your back and sit up straighter. You can purchase seat wedges online, or you can make your own by folding a bed pillow in half to form a wedge.
- Adjust your monitor. The kitchen table is often too low for the laptop screen. Try placing large coffee table books or reams of paper underneath to raise the laptop in a stable way so that you do not have to raise your hands up uncomfortably, or bend your head down uncomfortably. Consider purchasing a wireless keyboard, which enables you to raise the laptop screen higher—to eye level—and place the keyboard on the table top, which will encourage better posture.
- Create a DIY sit/stand station. The popularity of standing desks has increased significantly over the past several years. You can create your own standing desk at home by simply working at a raised counter (such as in a kitchen) but be sure that the height of the counter does not cause you to bend your elbows too much. You should be able to comfortably reach your keyboard with elbows bent at about a 90-degree angle. While you’re at it, consider using a wireless keyboard and boosting the height of your laptop screen to eye level with books, reams of paper, or a stand, which in turn will prevent neck strain (see photo).
Below, Dr. Scott Donkin demonstrates working at a raised counter. Elbows should be bent about 90 degrees and monitors should be raised to eye level, which prevents neck strain caused by looking down at the screen.
Don’t Forget to Stretch and Move!
Drs. Donkin and Bautch note that every seated workstation, even a makeshift one, can also be a sit/stand station. All you need to do is stand up every 20 minutes or so and take a break that includes some stretching and movement. They offer this example:
- Stand up and move your legs up and down as if you are walking in place.
- Look at an object that is more than 20 feet away for about 20 seconds.
- Gently shake your hands wrists and elbows for a few seconds while you are also gently rolling your shoulders up, back, and down.
- Take a slow, deep breath in to improve your posture and smile, then slowly exhale.
- Sit down, refreshed, in a good posture. You are ready to get back to work!
Reviewed by the ACA Editorial Advisory Board