Ergonomic tips for back friendly working have become more important than ever at the moment. With home working the norm during this period of social distancing, many people find themselves with a less than ideal set up. However, there are a number of things that you can do to improve your work ergonomics and protect your back.
Make the best of what you have
Whether you have a dedicated work space with a PC and height adjustable screen, or are working from a laptop at a kitchen table, it makes sense to optimise what you have available. Start off by watching our short video on the ideal way to set up your workstation. Consider how you might be able to implement some of this advice.
Screens – If you are working from a laptop, consider whether adjusting the angle of the screen, connecting it to a larger screen which can be height adjusted, or using a laptop stand, might take strain off your neck.
Chairs – If you do not have access to an adjustable office chair, you can still improve your situation. Choose a supportive kitchen chair. Now shuffle your bottom to the back of the chair, and place a cushion in the curve of your spine to support your lower back. Avoid sitting on soft armchairs to work, and do not work from your lap or a low coffee table.
Stuart Robinson is our chiropractor who has a special interest in office ergonomics. He is offering video consultations to offer advice to help make your work environment as back friendly as possible. Visit our online booking page and select an Online Consultation with Stuart. You can leave him a note when you book to say that you are interested in ergonomic advice.
Keep on the Move
Sustained postures are never good for your spine, even if you have an ideal office set up. If your work arrangements are not particularly back friendly, introducing varied postures and movement into your day will certainly help. Here are a few suggestions:
- Get up when you can. Walk around when you take phone calls; get up to make a drink; try to take regular breaks.
- Active sitting. Some chairs are designed to help you vary your posture, but you can work on this no matter what you are sitting on. Become a fidget! Shift your weight around on your chair; shift from one buttock to the other; walk your bottom backwards until you can feel yourself sitting on the front of your seat bones; shrug and roll your shoulders; and arch and dip your back. Maybe you could spend some of your time sitting on a wobble cushion or gym ball.
- Stand up to work. Varying your work posture is always a good thing, and being in a standing position makes it easier to shift around whilst working. If you have a breakfast bar you might find that you can work from standing for part of your day. If your kitchen work surface is too low, it may be possible to rest your laptop on something. Some people use a lap tray with legs to raise their laptop to the right height to work from a breakfast bar. A Google search for “laptop trays” or “lap trays with legs” will bring up a good choice of options, but don’t be tempted to use them whilst lying in bed or sitting on the sofa as their marketing suggests!
- Posture breaks. Another top tip is to take regular posture breaks. Get up and walk around, or simply take a few seconds out to do some simple posture break exercises.
- Take exercise. You may want to run through an exercise routine at some point during the day. The British Chiropractic Association “Straighten Up” exercise programme is great if you want some easy, safe movements to do at home. If you can structure your work to allow you take an hour’s exercise in the middle of the day, that is ideal. At the very least, take a proper lunch break away from your computer to stretch and move.
Finding a comfortable chair
For a number of years, one of our chiropractors, Stuart Robinson, has been on a mission to find himself a comfortable, protective and supportive office chair. As a result, Stuart designed his own ergonomic office chair which is now available to purchase. You can look at Stuart’s chair on his website.
Our Receptionists benefit from using one of Stuart’s “Spinekind” chairs, and they love it! Ergonomic chairs come in plenty of different shapes and sizes. Even if you aren’t looking to invest in a specialist chair, you may find it helpful to take a look at the sort of adjustments that are potentially available.
This might be a consideration when choosing your seating arrangements and deciding what is helpful in your particular situation.
Stuart’s Chair Design Journey
A while ago, Stuart had the fortune to attend a meeting at the headquarters of a major office chair manufacturer. This provided an interesting insight into the process of chair design and manufacture, which Stuart has written about:
“The essence of the day was to ask people with expertise in the field of ergonomics to test out and give feedback on two new chairs that the company are working on. For those who don’t know, as well as my clinical work as a chiropractor, I also have my own small range of ergonomic office chairs.
So in knowing this, your next question might very well be, how did they come to asking a competitor (admittedly much smaller in scale) to such an event? Well in part this is due to the contacts I have been fortunate to make. I think it also represents the collaborative environment in the industry. Further example of this was provided when looking at the other individuals in the meeting room with me. They were made up of all the independent retailers who sell ergonomic office chairs. Theoretically they all compete with one another. In reality, because they are geographically dispersed around the British Isles, and they all provide face to face personalised consultations with their clients, they rarely step on each others toes.
Differing opinions amongst experts
What quickly became apparent to all involved was the lack of consensus of whether or not the chair was comfortable and if not, why not. Like in so many fields of expertise when you get a room filled with people who know about a subject it’s often rare that they agree about new products, theories or ideas. All of them, as far as I could make out, made very valid points so whose ideas should the poor designers and engineers who were eagerly awaiting feedback listen to in order to progress with their project? Some of the experts in the room were even minded to suggest that the manufacturers, by trying to fill a gap at the lower end of the market could end up reducing demand for the company’s more premium chairs.
So if a consensus could be reached, you’d have to say that products can’t be all things to all people, the principles of their new chairs were sound and they offered reasonable levels of comfort for the anticipated retail price.
In the end I was left drawing parallels with health care and clinical decision making. We can’t always tell people which product or which treatment will suit them best and work best for them. However, if we take the time to get to know and understand the customer or a patient a bit better we can inform and guide people to make their own choice.
Ultimately most of us want choice. However, we don’t want to make a decision blindly without the knowledge or guidance that would help us make the right decision for ourselves. To me what this meeting of minds demonstrated was the value of a personalised service that the retailers can offer, so having more choice in their ranges can only be a good thing.
A chair in the making
The final part of the day was a tour of the factory floor. It was amazing to see the stages in the process; everything from upholsters stitching seats, to arm rests being attached and finally engineers checking that all of the adjustments and controls worked correctly prior to the chairs being shipped. Much of the work was of course assisted by machinery, but I was surprised by how many people were still required to allow a complete chair to be made.
Another intriguing sight was seeing a chair back and mechanism being stress tested for strength and stability. This involved two pneumatic levers with what looked like giant boxing gloves repeatedly pummelling the chair thousands of times to ensure the chairs could stand up to the rigors of years of service.
In a world where so much is being done by machines and computers it was interesting to see that many people are still needed for a chairs design, engineering and production. It struck me that despite e-commerce being an ever growing phenomenon it can’t be denied that for certain products and services there really is no substitute for gaining sound advice. This can’t always be gained by looking at a computer screen”.
Please do let us know if you require advice or help to look after your back whilst working from home.
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