• Go Ask Debbie

Working from home making you sore? Carpal tunnel, maybe?

Updated: Oct 4, 2020

With everyone working from home these days because of COVID, I've been hearing of friends and family saying they are getting sore wrists, arms, and backs. As we create at home work spaces, we need to be aware of our configuration and ergonomics. Repetitive motions without proper placement of things like keyboards, chairs, and monitors can add to unnecessary stress on muscles and joints.

So, I thought it was a good time to bring out this old article I wrote years ago after my own wrist troubles.

Let me back up and tell everyone a quick story as to why I know about ergonomics.

Back in the early 90s, I was working in the hotel industry and on the computer 8 plus hours a day. My wrists and shoulders were sore, but I thought it was just par for the course. Then one morning, as I drank from my tea cup, I just dropped it! I literally didn't change movement; it just fell out of my hand because my wrist and fingers gave out. It really scared me because I didn't know why.

So, off to the Doctor I went. And, the doctor determined it was Carpal Tunnel. I wasn't ready for surgery, so I started doing research. The doctor also provided me with some details about correct posture and placement of desk items.

After researching and changing my own desk setup, my wrist and shoulder pain almost entirely disappeared! Oh, and I have not had to have surgery - yay!

Years later when I was working as a Training Director, our company experienced a lot of people having medical claims because of wrist and shoulder pain. Our HR Director came to me, knowing I had experience with this, and asked that I help evaluate each worker's desk stations.

Almost all of them had done the things I had done: keyboards had the legs standing up, which causes your wrists to be placed in an angled position all day while typing; monitors were too low or too high, placing stress on their necks; and chairs were too low, causing shoulders to be lifted up all day and becoming sore rather quickly.

After we made the adjustments I suggested, almost all of the co-workers' pains went away!

So, I know from experience that you need to setup an ergonomically correct workstation to keep your body healthy.

Here is the original article I wrote and I hope it helps you when thinking about the setup of your home office situation. Even if you cannot make all of these adjustments because of what you have at home, try to make as many as you can. I hope everyone stays healthy, not just because of COVID, but because of new environments and workstations.

You may read further, or watch the video here.

8 Steps to Set Up an Ergonomically Correct Workstation

If you work or study at a computer for a long period of time each day and you have an improperly set up workstation, you may be risking serious health consequences. Ranging from a stiff neck to repetitive motion disorders, these injuries are painful and can be long-term. Yet, they are easily preventable, if you take the time to set up your workspace correctly. Here are some tips on workspace set-up to help you maintain your postural health and work more comfortably.

1) Adjust chair height properly

Adjust your chair height so that your feet are flat on the floor, with your thighs parallel to the ground and knees at a 90 degree angle. An approximation of the correct height can be found by standing facing your chair, and raising the seat-pan to just below your kneecap. If you are too short to have your feet flat on the floor, you should place a footrest under your feet and adjust the chair properly from there.

2) Set chair depth

The back of your knees should fall 2 inches (5 cm) from the end of the seat-pan, giving room for three fingers between the back of your leg and the chair.

3) Align backrest

It should press comfortably against your back and follow the curves of your back. If your chair will not adjust to the proper setting, you can use a towel to make it fit better.

4) Set armrests

Allow your elbows to form a 90 degree angle with your hands on your keyboard. Take care that your elbows are not winged out, but are at a comfortable, fairly vertical alignment. Your arms should be parallel to the ground and your wrists in a neutral position. If you have a wrist rest, do not use it while typing. It is fine to rest your wrists there when not typing, but when typing your hands should be floating over the keyboard.

5) Flatten keyboard on the desk

If there is a setting that lifts the back of the keyboard, do not extend it. UPDATE: Some people have even taken a more expensive approach by purchasing an ergonomically correct keyboard. I actually find that these put more stress on my wrists as the angle isn't straight. But, this is a matter of choice - just make sure if you do this, to use a sample first - see if it makes any part of your wrists or fingers feel awkward; if they do, then it is not right for you.

6) Place mouse near keyboard

Do not use a wrist rest on a mouse pad. Although it may seem like a good idea, it has been shown to increase a person's risk of Carpal Tunnel syndrome.

7) Adjust height of monitor

Place the monitor so that the entire screen sits below eye level. The average computer is designed for someone the size of the typical 25 year old man. It is likely that you are not this exact, "ideal" size, so make any necessary adjustments.

It it is best for your neck to place the monitor at direct eye level so you are not straining your neck all day looking down. Try putting a small single shelf on you desk that will raise your monitor up 1-2 inches, adjust to your eye level. If you need and can, go to an ergonomic furniture site and you will find they are selling a lot of standing desks with arms that hold your monitor a few feet away from your face but directly in front of you, and then you tilt your monitor slightly to get the best lighting, view, and units that sit on an existing surface and adjust. Placing the screen below eye level will strain your upper neck, at the occipital base of the skull. This is where some muscles attach that run down you mid back. Constantly looking down all day at your monitor will cause you to have a very tight neck, shoulders, and upper back.

8) Arrange items within reach

Place your phone, writing equipment, books and other frequently-used items within easy reach from where you sit. You should not need to stretch to reach frequently used objects.

Again, take as many of these measures as you can to setup an ergonomic workstation even at home and you may find that any pain you've experienced will subside.

Stay safe!

Please comment and let me know what changes or adjustments you made and how it helped you feel. And, share anything else you may have done so that others can learn and improve their at home workstations as well.