If you stay Working from home or returning to the office, the pandemic has shown us the importance of a safe, comfortable workplace. For many of us who were forced to do our jobs where we lived, it meant moving the available space and supplies into a makeshift ward. Dining tables became desks, sofas became seats, and computers replaced personal interactions. Ergonomic errors resulted in discomfort and a variety of common injuries.
Last year I taught 133 eighth graders about Zoom science. I started with a healthy 29-year-old who ate well, exercised three times a week, meditated, and met friends on the weekends. Although I had a history of depression, I found ways to deal with it. After nine months of distance learning, I had back and neck pain, chronic abdominal pain, high levels of anxiety, and most importantly, pain in my shoulder that woke me up at night.
When he saw orthopedic surgeon Louis Peter Re, he noticed that my left shoulder was visibly sagging. He asked about my home desk setup. I told him my laptop was uploaded with books, so every time I typed, I reached for the keyboard with my elbows extended. He gave me a lecture on Ergonomics 101, diagnosed me with tendinitis, and offered me a cortisone injection at the same site where I had been vaccinated two months earlier. Before the school year, I had researched how to look good on Zoom to be a more engaging teacher. The articles I had read recommended stacking books under my laptop until the camera was at eye level to avoid the unattractive corner of my chin. Shaking his head, Re said he wished people cared more about staying healthy than looking good on camera.
Along with the physiotherapy exercises he recommended, I adjusted my work setup and interviewed experts. As businesses and individuals increasingly adopt the remote working model, there are important adjustments you can make to alleviate and prevent various injuries.
The laptop problem
Laptops are great for their portability, but not so good when used as a permanent solution. On small computers, the screen is well below eye level, which means you are more prone to leaning forward. The keyboard is not placed on the edge of the desk, where it should ideally be. According to Re, this leads to a “closed posture that can put strain on the neck, back and shoulders”.
In my case, the screen was at eye level after putting my laptop on top of books, but I was still hunched over to type. My exposed elbows put strain on the front of my shoulders, causing painful tendinitis.
One solution is an external keyboard. “To correct this,” says Re, “I usually recommend getting a separate full-size keyboard that is either wired or via bluetooth.” The external keyboard allows you to lift your laptop without reaching up to type . You can lift your laptop by stacking books or purchasing a laptop stand. The top of your laptop (or monitor) should be slightly above eye level. This setup will help you not to bend.
Find the right chair
After using a folding chair for too long, I pulled a muscle in my back. Physiotherapist Melanie Karol said her husband also injured himself using a folding chair, which caused a tingling sensation in his leg. In our interview, Karol made it clear that it is not just about choosing the right chair, but also about using it correctly.
An ergonomic desk chair is height adjustable. Both Karol and Dr. Re emphasize the importance of keeping your chair at the correct height, with your forearms, wrists, and hands level with your desk and keyboard. Otherwise, you will put strain on your shoulders, neck, and back. The ideal ergonomic chair has an adjustable lumbar support.