At-Home Work and Muscle Pain



In a 2020 study, researchers from the University of Cincinnati Education and Research Center found that during the COVID pandemic, when many people worked at home with their office-provided laptops, resulting in suboptimal working conditions for many.

The point of this article is to document the potential problems of the critical components in the home office such as the chair, desk, input devices, and monitor. Through a quality improvement evaluation for faculty and staff at the University of Cincinnati, current home offices were evaluated for potential ergonomic concerns.

– 2020 study from the University of Cincinnati Education and Research Center

The study looked at 41 home office ergonomic evaluations. The researchers looked at things like ergonomic concerns related to laptop use, such as nonadjustable chairs without armrests, low monitor heights, and hard desk surfaces.

Their research found that office chairs were the main source of problems, and the best chairs have these key components: “adjustable height, adjustable armrests, five casters, and lumbar support in the back of chair”.

They suggests the following fixes for low budget chairs :

  • “Putting a pillow on the seat to elevate the seat height
  • “Putting a pillow and/or rolled up towel behind the back to provide lumbar support and back support and eliminate the need to lean away from the back of the chair
  • “Wrapping the armrests when they are low and not adjustable
  • “Moving the chair closer to the desk or table to encourage having the back against the back of the seat

A second problem was related to the laptops, which resulted “in poor postures of the back and neck, whether that was due to placing the laptop on the lap or setting it on the desk. Either way, the monitor of the laptop is too low and results in the worker looking down, oftentimes for long duration”.

The study recommends the following potential fixes for using a laptop:

  • “Place a lap desk or large pillow under the laptop to raise the monitor when using it on the lap.
  • “Use an external keyboard and mouse, along with raising the monitor by placing a stack of books or a box under the laptop when using a laptop on a desk.
  • “When possible, use an external monitor at right height (e.g., top at eye height) and centered on the person.
  • “When using dual or multiple monitors, it is key to keep the primary monitor directly in front of you and to place the secondary monitors (e.g., laptop or second external monitor) to the side of the primary monitor.

The third problem, the study found was related to the workstation or desk. This was a “regular source of concerns starting with the hard surface and specifically the front edge that oftentimes comes into contact with wrist and forearms. The contact stress is especially problematic when chair armrests are too low or are not used.”

Some potential fixes, recommended by the study, for a hard front edge surface are as follows:

  • “Place a folded towel over the edge on the desk and in front of the keyboard.
  • “Use pipe insulation from a local hardware store, or a pool noodle, which can be split down the seam and placed along the edge.

Please read the entire article for detailed discussions that provide helpful tips for avoiding back pain while working from home.

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