Ergonomics. It’s a term we all know – some of us are lucky enough to have an ergonomic check of our workstation (if we work for a big enough, or forward-thinking enough, company). Many of us, however, make do with whatever office furniture is on hand; and that’s especially true of people working from home. Spending time and money getting a good workstation set-up is rarely top of the list for those trying to run their own business, or working some of their week from a lap-top. And yet, it is so important. If you’re desk-based for a significant proportion of your day, your body is undergoing a constant process of adaptation to that position you’re in. You’re effectively telling it that this is the right way to be, and it will do its best to accommodate that. Certain muscles will shorten, others will lengthen, ligaments stretch or stiffen. Discs are under constant pressure in the sitting position, especially when the small of the back is rounded. And as your body adjusts to that position, some of those changes get set-in, so discs, ligaments and joints continue to be under stress even after you stand up.
So, what’s the answer? Well, two things. Firstly, all bodies need movement. This is not about fitness…I’m not advocating a home gym next to your home office! It’s just that our bodies are designed to function with movement. We’re like well-oiled machines (no, really!) in which movement keeps everything working and well-lubricated (blood in and out of tissues, fluid through joints, etc) and stops the overstretching or shortening of muscles and ligaments that are held in one place for too long. Regular breaks from your desk are vital. Do what my husband does, and pace up and down when you’re using the phone. Do a few simple stretches whenever you go to put the kettle on or use the loo; or if you get lost in your work, set a reminder into your phone or computer. These simple steps might help ease the aches, or might even prevent the weeks of immobility and pain that come with a herniated disc.
Happily, these days there’s more than one way to keep an office-worker moving! There’s a fantastic variety of well-designed office furniture out there to help stave off the ravages of desk work. Chairs that wobble gently help to stretch and mobilise soft tissues, discs and joints and keep those all-important fluids moving. Desks that are height-adjustable mean that you don’t have to sit all day, you can work part of the time standing, or perching on a stool. There’s a huge variety of small adjustments that can be made to your set-up (monitor height and position, mouse type, wrist supports etc) that will allow you to work in a way that’s most natural and comfortable for your body. You could spend a small fortune (of course!), but you needn’t; there are plenty of budget-friendly options and it’s a growing area. It’s worth finding someone who knows the market and can give the best options for you. I recently sought the advice of Phil Johns at Healthy Home Office, and he told me over 90% of people he sees are working at the wrong height desk which can result in low back, neck, shoulder and arm pain. He offers a free email assessment service, or can re-create your working layout in his showroom, making adjustments to minimise risks of strain and damage. And as a bonus to the health benefits, a lot of this equipment is very funky-looking, too!
So, if you’re working from home, be a good boss to yourself. After all, you are your best investment.