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Ergonomic tips for working from home

Ergonomic tips for working from home

In my daily work as an Osteopath, I am regularly asked "What causes my back problem or why does it keeping recurring - I don't do anything to initiate it"

It is often impossible to have one simple answer. There can be a multitude of reasons why. Sometimes there is an obvious reason, but often it is the result of a combination of factors and it is often related to incorrect postures and poor ergonomic habits that we are unaware of.

Recently, I had a patient with persistent neck pain so I asked her to send me photos of herself while working at her desk. We were both completely shocked at seeing her posture in the chair and realised this was probably the cause of her problem. She had been sitting like this most of the day for years and not even realising the habit she had formed!!

We are spending an increasing amount of time on a computer, especially during our new working from home environments. The most significant change over the last decade has been the major switch from desk top computers to notebook computers. The term "laptop" is quite ironic, while it describes the handy position we like to use it in, it is a reason so many people have ongoing back issues and why I believe, our kids will be the worst sufferers of back and neck issues in years to come.

Sustained work on a laptop is not conducive to good spinal health, especially when it's done lying on the bed, as many teenagers tell me they do.

It is really important for ourselves, and particularly for our children who have growing spines to have the correct setup for working on the computer. This includes a dedicated workspace with a decent desk and an ergonomic chair. If this is not possible and you must use a dining table, at least invest in a proper computer chair, in order to minimise the impact.

Ideally you would have a desktop computer at home and use the laptop for mobility between work and /or school. Otherwise, buy a separate monitor, keyboard and mouse to plug your laptop into OR use a stand for your laptop to increase the height of the screen and use a separate keyboard and mouse.

Here are some general tips for setting up your home space to help decrease the likelihood of musculo-skeletal problems due to poor posture.


Make sure the desk is deep and wide enough so that you can have everything you need on it. It can help if the height is adjustable. A sit-stand desk is great to avoid having to sit, or stand for long periods.
The computer and everything you use needs to be directly in front of you, to avoid sitting in an awkward posture or twisting your neck or torso to one side. This increases stress on your joints and spinal discs.


Chairs ideally need to be the correct size for each person using them. What most people don't realise is that the depth and size of the seat are really important. A chair is a good investment, so don't buy a cheap one, (you'll just have to buy them more often and they just end up in landfill) the more adjustable features  the better -for maximising it to fit the user properly. The chair is generally better without arms so that you can get close enough to the desk. Otherwise buy one with adjustable arms.

You should be sitting back in the chair right against the backrest, which should be high behind your upper back. And the lumbar rest supporting your lower back in the right place. Your knees and elbows should be bent at right angles and your forearms should rest on the desk. Your feet should be flat on the floor-if not you will need a footrest, to prevent pressure on the thighs.


It needs to be directly in front of you, at a distance of approximately an arm's length, with your palm flat facing the monitor, and raised so that you are looking at the top third of the screen. Or adjusted to a comfortable height if you wear bifocals / multifocals so that you aren't looking up and down constantly.

Keyboard and mouse

The keyboard should be flat and placed centrally in front of you, so that you can rest your forearms on the desk and have your shoulders and neck relaxed, to prevent neck and shoulder issues. The mouse should be close enough so that you can keep your elbow close and not need to stretch out your arm to reach it. The wrist should be relaxed and not tilted up which creates wrist and arm strain

Other tips

The room lighting should be adequate and screen brightness should be set at an individually comfortable level.

Don't rest the phone on your shoulder when using a keyboard use headphones or a speakerphone

Take breaks at regular intervals -There are some great apps that you can download for this. They could be micro breaks for changing your sitting posture and standing up now and then, to longer breaks for walking around, doing some stretches, getting a cuppa, etc.

Avoiding constant sitting will help reduce pain due to fatiguing and cramping of the muscles, and it helps your posture in the long term. Other benefits include reduce eye strain, reducing fatigue, preventing repetitive strain injuries (RSI), varicose veins, phlebitis and thrombosis and promoting blood circulation.

Vanessa Malone, our osteopath, specialises in ergonomic workstation assessments. She can send you some stretches or comprehensive assessments can be done on site, or for basic review and advice by skyping / email.

To book a home or office ergonomic assessment, or for more information please contact Vanessa at info@elementalhealth.net.au or call (02) 8084 0081.

Posted on 18 August 2021
Author:Vanessa Malone
Tags:Preventative medicineOsteopathy

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