Is your stay-at-home office causing ergonomic injuries?

Published: Apr. 16, 2020 at 2:12 PM EDT
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With Vermont's stay-home order extended until mid-May, people will be working from home for weeks longer. But local chiropractors are already seeing injuries caused by home offices that are hastily thrown together. Our Cat Viglienzoni put hers to the test and found out which mistakes are the most common.

Even those of us in the TV business are working remotely, and as you can see, my setup here is pretty sparse. However, it's also making some common mistakes that a chiropractor told me could cause problems in my neck and back. I went to find out how to fix them.

"I think so many people are caught up in the big picture that they're forgetting the little things that are happening to them just from sitting," said Sarah Paquette with Compass Chiropractic in Richmond. She, like countless others, is working from home and hearing from patients. "The two main things are low back pain and neck and shoulder pain."

One main culprit could be your laptop. Paquette says that's a misnomer -- it shouldn't be on your lap. "The pitfall there is, either you have to scoot down to get closer to your screen, which puts a lot of compression and tightness in your neck, or you have to bend your knees and bring your screen up to your face, which tightens your hips and overstretches your low back and causes a lot of weakness and pain there," she said.

And don't use your couch or armchair either -- they'll cause your spine to go from an 's' shape to a 'c.' "That puts a lot of stress on your low back and it puts a lot of tightness into your hip flexors, and all of that causes that neck and low back pain that we're seeing," Paquette said.

And she says to check your work station. "Just about the only think my desk is good for right now is showing you what not to do," Paquette said, demonstrating a series of simple fixes. "We've closed the curtain, which takes a lot of the glare and strain off those screens. And we've just cleaned it off, so there's room to move. In general, when you're seated at a work station, you want all your joints to be kind-of relaxed."

If you're like her husband, and could bring your work setup home -- a split screen in front of you, anti-glare glasses, and space -- are key. "There's a lot of room to move here, so he's not cramped into a tiny little spot, so this is a really functional work space," Paquette said.

Finally, she shows where her kids would work at the kitchen table. The laptop is propped up to be a few inches below eye level. "And I have that wireless keyboard and mouse, which allows me to not be working up too high because that engages my neck and shoulders -- and again -- will tighten up my neck a lot," Paquette said.

Cushions can add pad to a kitchen chair and help lift shorter people up so their wrists are spared. "I'm decently tall, but if I wasn't, this would put a lot of pressure into my elbows and wrists potentially," Paquette said.

And for everyone -- hydrate. "Water naturally combats tightness and pain by helping our bodies by naturally healing themselves, so that's really important too.

Based on her advice, I made some changes to my own workspace. I have a cushion that I can sit on to bring me up a little bit. And when I do, I can actually see my laptop better because I propped it up on a book. I'm also using a spare keyboard that I found so I can give my arms more space. And then there's this glass of water here that I'm going to try to remember too.

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