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CINCINNATI, Ohio — Although many people are working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, they can’t take their comfy office chairs with them. It’s no surprise then that a new study finds many people have home office setups conducive to brutal back pain.

To reduce the risk that these improvised offices hurt your back or arms, researchers say workers need a break every 30 minutes.

“The body doesn’t like static postures continually,” says University of Cincinnati Professor Kermit Davis in a university release. “You don’t want to do all sitting or all standing all the time. You want to alter your position and change it up throughout the day.”

The study recommends workers should stand and move around for two minutes every half-hour. Researchers add another option is switching between a sitting and standing desk during the workday. Too much sitting has been linked to an increased risk for developing diabetes.

Most homes are not made to be offices too

While the ordinary office has ergonomic chairs, big computer monitors, and properly sized desks, that equipment isn’t in everyone’s home during quarantine. Davis, an expert on ergonomics, says the average laptop is not made to replace an actual office.

“You can use your laptop from home, but it is designed to be a short-term option. It should be used for a few hours while traveling. It is not meant to be used for eight or nine hours each day,” Davis explains.

Researchers conducted a survey of the university’s employees to find out how they are dealing with working remotely. Over 800 faculty and staff members completed the survey, with 41 also sending in pictures of their home office.

The results reveal several problems workers are dealing with during their isolation. Many participants have chairs that are the wrong height, some are not making good use of armrests, and others have their monitors set too low or too high.

The wrong fit can lead to physical, mental issues

Study authors say 41 percent are sitting in chairs that are too low. Over half of the chairs studied do have armrests, but only a third of respondents actually use them. Nearly three-quarters, 73 percent, of the chairs don’t have lumbar support. Researchers say this issue in particular affects the curvature of the lower back.

When it comes to computer monitors, 52 percent set up their screens too low. Another 31 percent lack a screen centered in front of them; forcing many to twist their neck or back.

Davis says it’s not just poor fitting office furniture that’s the problem, but over five months in isolation without co-workers too.

“It’s not just ergonomics changing but also other factors: isolation, teamwork changes and work-life balance is distorted and changes in the stress level that people have.”

How can you adjust your home office?

The Cincinnati team has a few suggestions to ease the stress of working long hours at home:

  • Put a pillow on your chair to raise the seat height.
  • Put a pillow or rolled up towel behind your back to add back support.
  • Wrap your armrests if they are too low and not adjustable.
  • Move your chair closer to the desk to have your back supported by your chair.
  • If a laptop is too low, place it on a lap desk or large pillow to raise it to eye level.
  • Use an external keyboard and mouse with your laptop.
  • A standing workstation should have the top of the monitor at eye height and the keyboard at a height so your forearms are parallel to the ground.

The study appears in the journal Ergonomics in Design.

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About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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