By now, the majority of us have transitioned from working in an office to working at home. For some, a home office may already be something you have set up. For others, it means sitting at the kitchen table or on the couch with a laptop propped up on a pillow.
As we navigate this new “work from home” environment, we must keep in mind that our bodies, hands and wrists need to be situated in a healthy, ergonomic manner. This will assure that you do not develop new, or aggravate existing, hand and wrist conditions. To care for your hands and wrists throughout your workday in a home office environment, consider these tips:
Be mindful of workspace ergonomics
As tempting as it may be to work from the couch all day, you should seek out a workspace that allows you to sit upright and keep your back and neck straight, your elbows and knees bent at 90 degree angles, and your feet on the floor.
Bad posture causes back pain
Use a sturdy chair with good lumbar support and sit in front of a table or desk that’s at about waist height when you’re sitting down. Arm rests are helpful for those with arthritis in their arms or hands, too. Back pain can lead to shoulder pain that radiates down your arms into your hands. Good posture can prevent further issues.
Lift your laptop
Despite their name, laptops are not good to use on your lap because looking down at the screen can cause bad posture and pain in your back and neck. But they’re not much better sitting at eye level, either—your arms and wrists are strained by reaching up to the keyboard. Laptops are designed for portability, not good ergonomics.
The best way to solve this problem is to do one or both of the following:
Use books or a stand to elevate your laptop screen so it’s just below eye level.
Use a separate, detachable keyboard that you can use with your elbows at 90 degrees and your wrists level.
When getting a detachable keyboard, consider one that’s easier on arthritic hands and wrists. Options include a sloped keyboard that’s high in the middle, a keyboard that's split in two, and/or one that's padded to protect the wrists.
For arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome sufferers
For people with severe hand pain or stiffness, there are even keyboards that are controlled by two domes that you rest your hands on and shift slightly to type. There are also short key and word prediction software programs that can help you minimize keystrokes.
Use a more mobile mouse
Laptops that have a track pad or tiny joystick may be difficult for arthritis-affected hands to manipulate. Consider using a detachable mouse that is ergonomically suited to your hand mobility. Or work on a tablet or computer equipped with a touchscreen.
Do hand exercises to improve mobility
Every day before booting up and getting down to business, do some hand, wrist and finger stretches to warm up the muscles.
Add other adaptive equipment as needed
Several online retailers carry adaptive office supplies for those with arthritis, such as pen grips, special scissors, document holders, and book lights/magnifiers. If your arthritis qualifies as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, your employer can provide the assistive devices you need to do your job on a case-by-case basis. Talk with your human resources representative to find out more.
Brace yourself for additional workday support
You may find that, even with assistive devices, you need extra support during the workday for an arthritic wrist. In this case, consider wearing a working brace, which can stabilize and strengthen your wrist and hand as you carry out daily tasks. Unlike a hard-plastic brace that may provide complete immobility at night, a working brace is often made of neoprene with Velcro straps and provides for some flexibility.
Give your brain and body the breaks they need
Work smartly by practicing good posture. Take breaks to rest your eyes and get up and walk around. Stay hydrated by keeping a water bottle at your desk. Know your limitations and talk with your employer if you need assistance with other ways to do your job in an effective and pain-free manner.
For more information or to request an appointment,
please contact Dr. Patrick McDaid, M.D. at www.mcdaidorthohand.com/contact