Like so many of us, Dr. Vicki Kaskutas works from home for now. An associate professor of occupational therapy at Washington University in St. Louis, she meets with colleagues and students via videoconference, and she notices when someone has a laptop propped on their knees in bed or is sprawled on the ground. Although such novel work positions might seem fun, they can cause aches, pains and tight muscles.
“I encourage people to think about what their workstation looked like at their office before they began working from home due to the pandemic,” she says. “If they were comfortable there, they should try to replicate that.”
In most cases, this means finding a chair that provides back support and allows the feet to be flat on the floor with the knees and hips at 90-degree angles. Likewise, elbows should be at a 90-degree angle when typing, and wrists should be straight, not bent up or down to reach the keyboard.
“You might need a separate keyboard in order to position your screen so that the top third is above eye level and the bottom two-thirds are just below eye level,” Kaskutas says. A stack of books or other platform can elevate the screen.
Kaskutas admits that creating the perfect ergonomic setup can be challenging. In fact, many people have less than ideal workstations even in their remote offices. “Ergonomics need to be adjusted to fit the person, not vice versa,” she says. Kaskutas suggests that anyone used to a desktop standing desk (a stand that sits on the desk and can raise or lower the screen and keyboard) should try to continue using one at home. If you don’t have a standing desk at home, occasionally moving a laptop to a bar-height countertop can provide some variety in work position.
“Periodically moving and changing position is helpful,” she adds. “Don’t just sit at your desk all day, no matter where you’re working.” Kaskutas suggests standing and taking at least a few minutes to stretch or walk around to help prevent muscle tightness. “You can even set a timer to remind you or actually put short breaks on your calendar along with your meetings,” she says.
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