Is your home office set-up giving you grief? Well, we’re here to help!

Wherever you reside in Australia, if you work in an office, you probably spent some time working from home last year. And for many, as productivity soared, the temporary transition from workplace to home office became a permanent proposition.

Initially, even with very little spare space in the house, it was relatively easy to set up a home office on the fly, but in our admirable capacity to face any adversity with a hasty homemade solution, in many cases, ergonomics took a backseat. And while we all recognise the importance of ergonomics in the workplace, when it comes to our home offices, the ‘she’ll be right’ attitude is still prevalent.

“At least 40 per cent of patients in our clinic relate to office environment injuries, and that is increasing with more people working from home,” says Dr. David Fairclough, owner, and head osteopath at Victoria’s Gisborne Osteopathy.

“An office environment can induce hours of forced concentration on the job at hand, which leads to the lack of correct body position, therefore creating poor posture. The poor posture leads to the head being positioned forward over the body for hours at a time, shifting the centre of mass and adding prolonged strain to the postural muscles. Excessive pressure is also directed to the wrists on the desk surface.”

“Being aware of your posture is the first and most important step.”

According to Dr. Fairclough, the resulting injuries from poor posture can include headaches, migraines, neck pain, thoracic outlet syndrome resulting from upper back and neck strain, and hand and wrist injuries including carpal tunnel syndrome. And that’s just the short term injury prospects.

However, it’s not all bad news. Many of these injuries are preventable by adopting a posture awareness strategy and implementing some basic changes to your office environment.

“Being aware of your posture is the first and most important step,” explains Dr. Fairclough. “As the day goes on, workload and stress levels increase creating postural static fatigue. It is so easy to forget to ‘sit up straight’. Looking at your screen at eye level and correct arm and wrist positioning while using a mouse or keyboard is important to reduce neck strain.”

So, what are the key considerations when setting up a home office? If you’ve been working on the couch with a laptop on your knees or using the kitchen bench, it’s time to revaluate. Where possible, it’s important to establish a clear distinction between work and living space, and good lighting is essential.

When searching for the right chair, make sure it’s adjustable with plenty of support for your lower back; this will help maintain the spine’s natural S shape. Elbows and knees should be at right angles with both soles of your feet placed flat on the floor; these should remain in that position.

While laptops are a great idea for working whilst in transit or for short periods of time, using them on a longer, full time basis is not recommended. If you must use a laptop, employ a stand to elevate the screen and add a keyboard and mouse, too. Use rest supports to minimise bend in your wrists. Monitors should be around an arm’s length away and the top set at eye level to alleviate pressure on the neck.

If you’re working with a standing desk, you’ll want to keep your head, torso and legs as vertical as possible. Keep elbows slightly above the desk or at a 90-degree angle, with the monitor an arm’s length away. Again, the top of the monitor should be at eye level.

Whether you’re sitting or standing at the desk, it’s imperative to move at least once every 30 minutes.

Dr. David Fairclough’s top five home office wellbeing tips

1. Get up for a short walk around the office/street whenever you can.

2. Set reminders on devices for postural checks.

3. Get ergonomic assessment and advice at your workstation and seek all necessary aids to improve your situation.

4. Keep active and maintain a healthy diet in and out of the office. Make sure you keep well hydrated at your desk.

5. Have regular checks with your healthcare professional for general and musculo-skeletal wellbeing.