I started 2020 in a lot of pain: my shoulders, right arm and hand were killing me. Some days I wanted to chop off my right arm because of the constant pain.
What had happened?
One day I was sitting at my desk at home and suddenly, out of nowhere, I felt a stabbing pain in my right forearm. I’m right-handed, so I use my computer mouse with my right hand.
I recognized it as a ‘mouse arm’ or Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) so I decided to alternate my mouse between my right and left hand.
However, the pain got worse and worse and crept up towards my shoulder. So much so that my arm would hurt even when I wasn’t at my desk.
I wasn’t sitting in weird positions and was using a good chair, I thought. But when I researched office ergonomics, I found many small mistakes (mainly my shoulder position) that all added up.
After I made my workplace more ergonomic, the pain didn’t increase anymore – so that was helpful!
Because in my case the injury had already done too much damage, I had to go to the physiotherapist. It took over 6 months of weekly sessions before I felt significant progress.
Now that my arm is better and my workplace is all ergonomic, I can sit and work at my desk without any pain!
You can save yourself from a similar experience by setting up an ergonomic workplace right now with the tips and equipment I share in this post.
What is ergonomics and why do you need it?
Ergonomics is the broad process of designing or arranging workplaces, products and systems so that they fit the people who use them.
What does this mean for your desk setup? Office ergonomics aims to create a safe, comfortable and productive workspace.
You need a safe and comfortable workplace so you won’t get injuries, like my RSI in the story above. It also reduces and prevents injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and lower-back injuries.
When you have an ergonomic desk setup, it can also help increase productivity, lessen (muscle) fatigue and have less posture-related pains.
If you work in an office, your employer should take care of an ergonomic workplace for you and you can often ask for any (extra) equipment you need.
If you’re working from home, check out what I did to improve my work from home ergonomics and which equipment I got!
What is the proper ergonomic desk posture?
Let’s take a look at the correct desk posture so you can get the right work from home ergonomics.
Your elbows should be bent at a 90-degrees angle and positioned close to your body, right under your shoulders. Don’t let your elbows and forearms hang! Rest them on an adjustable arm rest or on your desk.
Your shoulders should be relaxed and hanging – not lifted up towards your ears. If your elbows are in a 90-degree angle, your shoulders should be positioned correctly. Make sure you sit upright with your shoulders back and shoulder blades lightly pulled towards each other.
Your wrists should be supported and not bent or hanging. If your forearms are supported, this should happen automatically. You can give your wrists extra love by using a wristpad or folded towel in front of your keyboard. I recommend using a vertical mouse to keep your wrist and arm in a natural position, but more on this below.
Your back should be straight. Sit all the way back in your chair so your back is supported by the backrest of your chair. Ideally, your office chair has a natural curve for lumbar support to keep your lower back in place too. You could also consider a lumbar support pillow.
Your neck should be upright above your spine. It’s very easy for your neck to move forwards but this can lead to headaches, very tight neck and shoulder muscles and might even affect your breathing efficiency.
Your screen should be about an arm’s length away from you. The top of the screen should be around eye level. If you work on a laptop, you need a laptop stand for an ergonomic desk posture, see below for my suggestion.
Your feet should be flat on the floor, with your knees bend at 90-degrees and your thighs parallel to the ground. If your feet can’t reach the floor (like me!) stack some books or use a footrest to get in the right position.
Now you know how to sit at your desk properly, let’s take a look at the equipment I got to improve my work from home ergonomics.
The best work from home ergonomics equipment
Here are the things I got to improve my work from home ergonomics and why they are necessary.
Ergonomic home office chair
Your office chair determines a lot about your comfort while working. Choose a swivel chair with wheels so you can move easily. Your chair should support your back and follow your spinal curve.
To make sure your elbows can be supported and bent in a 90-degrees angle, your chair should have adjustable (flat) armrest – or simply no armrests, like mine. I rest my forearms on my desk.
If you already have an office chair that you like, except for its armrests, then you can usually just un-assemble the armrests.
I’d recommend to have a chair with mesh backrest, so you won’t get warm and sweaty!
I use the Markus chair from Ikea without the armrests. It has a great lumbar support which makes it easier for me to sit in the back of my chair and keep my back upright.
This is an ergonomic office chair with similar features which we got for my husband after reading its high reviews – he’s very happy with it too!
Do you need a large workspace area or will you only be working from your laptop/computer?
Even though you might be working mainly from your computer, you could need space for notepads, books/magazines, binders, planners or something else.
We went DIY with the desk in our study, where we placed a table top between our windowsill and bookcase. It’s a bit too high for me but it works perfectly with my chair in the highest position and with a footrest under my feet.
It completely depends on your home situation and your work to determine what desk to get.
What you should definitely keep in mind when choosing your desk:
- Your desk should be deep enough to have an eye-to-screen distance of at least 60 cm/23 inches.
- Don’t get a desk that is too low or too high. You should be able to sit according to the proper desk posture described above.
Over the last couple of years, standing desks have become more popular thanks to its health benefits. According to Healthline, standing can:
- Lower blood sugar levels
- Reduce the risk of weight gain
- Lower risk of heart disease, and other diseases linked to inactivity
- Reduce back pain due to sitting for long periods
But standing all day long will cause other problems. The trick for optimal health benefit is to alternate between sitting and standing at your desk. It’s all about movement.
You won’t need 2 desks for that. You can opt for an adjustable height desk, where the whole desk can be moved up and down.
If you’re on a laptop instead of a desktop, it’s an absolute must for your work from home ergonomics that you get a laptop stand.
Without raising your laptop screen to the right height, you will slouch and your head and neck will definitely move forward and downwards.
The top of your screen should be at eye level, to sit upright and look comfortably in front of you.
I got this laptop stand because you can move it any angle you want to create the perfect height for you. Besides that, it’s very sturdy and has ventilation holes so any heat from my laptop won’t get trapped.
The laptop stand has legs on the side so there is an open space under the laptop to use as extra desk space.
It also has two small sliding ‘holders’ on the protection edge in case you have a thick laptop. I use it to hold my notebooks which I find very useful.
Since I got my laptop stand my overall posture has improved a lot and I work more comfortably.
When you put your laptop on a laptop stand, you’ll need a separate keyboard. Your keyboard should be directly in front of you (which is easy with the laptop stand I recommend!).
The keyboard should be at a distance that allows you to keep your elbows right under your shoulders. Your forearms and wrists should be supported and parallel to the ground.
I recommend a wireless keyboard to keep your desk tidy.
I’ve been loving my keyboard. It types very comfortably, it has a perfect angle and it is a full size keyboard including numeric pad. It’s connected with my laptop via an USB receiver. But you can also connect it via Bluetooth with other devices, for example your phone or tablet!
The exact model I have, the MIIIW keyboard, is currently unavailable via Amazon but – after searching for a while – I found one for you with similar features, the same angle (important!) and great reviews! And it’s actually cheaper than mine.
One of the first improvements of my work from home ergonomics was to switch to an ergonomic vertical mouse. I took it to the office with me as well, where more than one colleague asked me “Is that a… mouse?”
A vertical mouse keeps your arm in its natural position which prevents RSI due to a rotated arm.
I have the Evoluent Vertical Mouse D Small, the wired version. I chose the wired version because some people had connection issues with the wireless version. There are several sizes available (small, medium and large) which is very considerate because there is no universal hand size.
This mouse is so comfortable and easy to use – I didn’t think I could be so hyped up about a mouse, haha!
You need a day or two to get used to the vertical position of the mouse, but you’ll adapt quickly. I especially like how my thumb can just rest on the mouse. There is also space for your little finger to rest on.
One thing I didn’t know I needed but can’t live without now, is a thumb button to ‘go back’. Whether you’re in your browser, your document folders, Spotify or any software: with the thumb button you easily go to the previous page.
Your health will thank you for getting a vertical mouse, especially if you do a lot of mouse work such as CAD, designing, creative programs, etc.
I have to sit fairly high for my elbows to be in a 90-degree angle which left me with an issue… my feet couldn’t reach the floor!
I stacked a few books on each other to use as a footrest but it wasn’t ideal; the ‘foot area’ was too small, the edges were too sharp and it just didn’t feel comfortable.
Since I got my footrest it is way easier for me to sit in the right desk posture.
This footrest has three heights (I use the lowest setting) and has a pebbled surface which feels nice on my feet.
The footrest tilts back and forth depending on how you position your feet on it. I particularly like this as I can get a bit restless after sitting for some time and it promotes leg movement.
Even though my mom always hammered that I should sit with my back straight and my shoulders back, my shoulders were fairly rounded.
This resulted into too tight muscles on the front side of my shoulder, while the muscles between my shoulder blades were too weak to pull my shoulders back.
The tightness also affected the rest of my arm and even the muscles in my hand! It is important to have a correct posture and flexible muscles.
This stretching exercise and other shoulder stretches helped me to make my muscles less tight.
I also got myself a posture corrector to wear for short sessions throughout the day. It is a great reminder to keep yourself in the right posture.
If you have tight muscles or want to prevent it, massages and heat treatment help to keep your muscles flexible.
It’s also just really relaxing of course : -)
I used a neck and back massager once at a friend’s house and immediately had to get one myself because of how effective it was.
It has a heating function too which is just The Best Thing Ever.
You can actually use it all over your body (hello calves after a hike!), you can control the speed and direction and if you want, you can turn off the heating function.
I use it many evenings and my neck and shoulders feel so much more relaxed and flexible after a 15-minute session. It automatically shuts off after 15 minutes but you can immediately turn it on again.
Let’s get started on your work from home ergonomics
The reason why I wanted to share my painful RSI experience with you is so you will learn from my situation.
As I said, it was the sum of many small mistakes that led to the injury. These mistakes are easily preventable with the right desk posture and ergonomic office equipment.
How is your desk setup right now? Is it possible for you to sit in the right posture or do you need to improve your workspace?
You can prevent RSI and related injuries by making your home office more ergonomic and sitting in the right desk posture.
If there is one thing I’d want you to take away from this post, it’s my absolute must-do tip for laptop-users: get a laptop stand right now – you won’t regret it.