If you’ve been hunched over a laptop these past months while hammering out your workload from the couch, you might be feeling the pain right about now.
Pinched neck. Shoulder tension. Back ache.
Bad posture attacks the weakest part in your chain, said Dan Clapper, certified athletic trainer and Spectrum Health Sports Medicine supervisor. He also oversees the Spectrum Health Orthopedics at Work program.
“If you have a bad back, (bad posture) is going to make it worse,” Clapper said.
It can also create plenty of new problems.
Now months into this life-at-home routine, most folks have hopefully designed something resembling a bona fide workplace.
If you’re still smoothing out the wrinkles, Clapper has some tips.
Head up, eyes forward
Working at a desktop computer? You should have long ago arranged that space for good posture.
If you’ve recently found yourself working from home, “more than likely, you’ll be working on a laptop,” Clapper said.
In that case, think firstly about posture of your head, neck and back.
“Make sure your laptop screen is at eye level,” Clapper said. “You want it straight in front of you. You want your head over your shoulders and that spine kind of straight.”
We too easily slump into positions that initially feel comfortable, only to later cause pain.
“If you’re sitting and slouching forward, you’re going to have low back pain, too,” Clapper said.
If need be, use books to elevate your computer. The monitor should be about 20 to 40 inches from your eyes.
As you type, your arms should remain at your side, bent at the elbows at about 90 degrees, Clapper said.
If you elevate your laptop at eye level, this can be hard to achieve.
“It would be helpful to have a secondary keyboard, that way you can type with a normal posture and see what you’re doing,” Clapper said. A Bluetooth keyboard runs about $30 to $40.
“In a perfect scenario, you’ll have a separate keyboard and a mouse and a secondary monitor and a stand designed for a laptop,” he said.
Don’t have any of these on hand?
“Try to find a happy medium with the laptop,” Clapper said.
It’s OK to glance down a bit with the eyes as you type, but you shouldn’t point your head down.
“What’ll happen there is you’ll have tension in your shoulder and neck—neck pain, muscle spasms,” he said. “That leads to headaches.”
Take a stand
Try to type on your laptop while standing, Clapper said. This places your elbows naturally by your sides at 90 degrees.
The ideal workstation lets you alternate between sitting and standing.
“Change your body positioning so you don’t become stagnant,” Clapper said.
Aim to reduce contact stress on your wrist and elbows and keep forward-leaning weight off your arms.
Break it up
You might feel compelled to slog away at your computer for hours on end. But every 20 to 30 minutes or so you should step away and stretch, Clapper said.
“I wouldn’t go over an hour sitting in the same posture, same position,” he said. “It’s good to get the blood flow up and moving for about five to 10 minutes.”
His rule of thumb: If something is sore because it’s been in a certain position too long, work it in the opposite direction.
If your neck hurts from a downward tilt, for example, bring your head and chin up to counteract the strain.
Choose your seat
Got an $1,000 office chair? Great.
“But not everyone has that,” Clapper said.
Find a seat that promotes a straight back and reduces strain. You’ll know it when you find it.
“Everyone is different,” he said. “Sometimes a stool works because someone can keep straight with the posture. Sometimes it’s a chair.”
A pillow at your lower back can provide lumbar support. It also helps to change your seat throughout the day.
“Sit in one for a bit, then sit in something else,” Clapper said.