Doing computer work at home
Many of us do much of our work on personal computers. Sometimes we find ourselves having to do that work at home, away from our office. While there may be advantages to working from home, if it is intermittant or temporary, we may find that our home-based workstation setup is less than ergonomically adequate. We are not likely to have the same desk, chair, monitors, keyboard, and other tools and supports we use to achieve good ergonomics in the office. What can we do?
Not to worry. Our muscles, joints, and senses all coordinate as we engage with our computer. Applying a few basic ergonomic principles to how we position ourselves with respect to the keyboard, mouse, and monitor(s) can make this activity safer and more efficient. Effective ergonomic interventions can reduce fatigue, distraction, the onset of muscle aches and pains, and the potential for injury associated with extended computer work. We can employ these principles by using a few adaptive tools we have at home. In so doing, we can greatly reduce the potential for work-related physical and sensory stress and strains associated with poor ‘office’ ergonomics.
Some people with excellent core strength prefer to sit forward from a backrest when typing, and let their trunk muscles hold their pelvis tilted forward. But most people need, or at least benefit, from help to make this happen. If you don’t
have a chair that gives you good lumbar support, you can place a pad or pillow between your lower back and the chair back. Getting this right means having a pad that is the right height, and having it placed at just the right height relative
to your back so that you can 1) tuck your butt under the pad, and 2) roll your upper back over the top. Your shoulders should end up aligned over the pad.
By this I mean that you want a cushion that supports as much surface area of your bum and thighs as possible, except for 1½ to 2 inches of thigh that should stick out over the front of the cushion behind your knee. You want this gap to prevent the front of the cushion from putting any pressure behind your knee where it might impinge on blood vessels close to the surface. In general, the better the distribution of seating support, the better the blood flow to butt/thigh tissues, yeilding a less frequent need to shift and fidget in your seat.
If you extend your legs when sitting, calf support is preferable, but if not, at least have something that supports the back of your heal to prevent your feet from sliding down the foot support.
This will keep your shoulders and upper back muscles from bearing the weight of your arms, which often leads to tension and pain in those areas after even short sessions of keyboard and mouse work. This can be more difficult to accomplish without an ergonomic chair with adjustable arm rests. However, when typing at a desk or table, move your keyboard and mouse out in front of you enough to rest your forearms the table, or, preferably, a pad on the table. If you do this, try to pull up closer to the table so you don’t end up reaching out for the keyboard.
For each of you, these demensions will depend in part on your vision, if and how you prefer to adjust font and document image sizes, and how your screen is supported. If you are using a laptop and doing extensive keyboard work, you should try to get hold of a separate keyboard, allowing you to raise the monitor to a more ergonomic height while avoiding having to use the now elevated laptop keyboard.
A neutral wrist position means the wrist is straight, with the hand acting as a natural extension of the arm. Maximizing wrist neutrality in typing would require using an ergonomically designed keyboard with keys located along contours that minimize all wrist angle deviations. While access to such a keyboard may not be practical for you, positioning your arms with elbows close to your side, and at roughly the same height as your keyboard will provide good ergonomic alignment of your wrist when typing. As with the alternate keyboard for a laptop mentioned above, if you are doing a considerable amount of mouse work, you should try to acquire an ergonomic mouse to use instead of a track pad.