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My Aching Pandemic Neck

Published in Rehabilitation Services, For the Health of It Author: Steve Sperl, PT, Director, St. Cloud Hospital Outpatient Rehabilitation

Working from home — using Webex, Microsoft Teams and Zoom — distance learning and practicing social distancing. We are living in ever-changing times. For many of us, part of this change is an increasing presence at a keyboard, screen and audio source.

Though we’ve long been aware of the importance of an ergonomically correct workstation, now we may find ourselves doing the best we can to adequately configure a home “office.” An adequate workstation allows us to get our work done. An optimal workstation and work habits afford us the ability to do our work while also taking care of our body.

Christmas hint: If your shopping list includes someone working or learning from home, consider a gift to help create an ergonomically correct workstation.

Shift your experience from adequate to optimal with the following considerations (in no particular order)

  • Chair support: This is the foundation for your seated workstation. Is your bottom back in the chair? Are your feet on the floor? Does your low back have adequate support and is the rest of your back taking advantage of the backrest? Are your arms supported by the armrests?
  • Laptop vs. connection to a monitor or TV screen: Laptops allow function and mobility, but, in and of themselves, come up short in the ergonomic category. Laptops don’t allow separation of the monitor from the keyboard and therefore the monitor height is often undesirable. As a rule of thumb, the top of a monitor should be at the level of your eyebrows. To achieve this with a laptop, consider connecting to an extra monitor or a strategically placed television via an HDMI cable.
  • Lighting: Position/angle your workspace and monitor to minimize glare. Adjust room lighting and video display brightness/contrast to foster an upright posture.
  • Keyboard height/external keyboard: Position your keyboard to allow forearms to remain roughly parallel to the floor and your shoulders relaxed.
  • Eyewear: Extend your arm in front of you with your hand in a fist. Use that as an estimate for your distance from your computer monitor. Are you wearing the appropriate corrective lenses for your established working distance? If using progressive lenses or bifocals, is your monitor at a height that doesn’t cause you to tip your head backward? Periodically focus on distant objects to give your eyes a break.
  • Headset with microphone/Bluetooth earpiece: Leaning toward your computer to participate in a meeting creates added stress on your body. Ensure headset and microphone configuration promotes healthy participation.
  • Mouse use: Though the smallest component of our workstations, be sure to not overlook the importance. Computer mice come in various shapes and sizes. If you are experiencing forearm discomfort, consider your mouse as a possible culprit. Did your mouse do more than just take the cheese?
  • Interruption of static postures: Sit a bit, stand a bit, move your neck and shoulders, extend your low back. Can you also configure a standing workstation? Circulation promotion is good for our system, including our muscles, in the short- and the long-term.
  • Schedule breaks: It’s easy to move from one virtual meeting to the next without a break. Historically, when working onsite, movement from room to room between meetings created a natural “break.” Because virtual meetings do not require a location change, be sure to build in some movement between your Webex calls. If scheduling virtual meetings, set meetings at 25- or 50-minute durations instead of 30 or 60 minutes.

Still not feeling “optimal” — neck tension, headaches, low back aches? CentraCare Rehabilitation Services can help.