Practicing good posture is more important than ever. After all, if you’re like millions of people who made the transition to working from home (WFH), you’ve likely lost access to the ergonomic equipment in the office. In turn, you might find yourself working in awkward positions—only to experience back aches, shoulder pain and more. Ouch.
Fortunately, with a few adjustments, it’s possible to make the WFH life easier on your body. To start, check out these expert-recommended strategies for protecting your spine while you’re on the clock.
1. Skip the couch and bed.
Sorry, couch potatoes, but the comfy spots in your home are a no-go. “Couches and beds typically lack structural support,” explains Mark Gugliotti, D.P.T., associate professor of physical therapy at New York Institute of Technology. On the other hand, chairs (literally) have your back. They offer support for your spine, preventing unnecessary strain on your back and neck, says Gugliotti.
To practice good posture, sit in a chair at a desk or table. If you must sit on the couch or bed, consider tweaking your setup. Gugliotti suggests placing your laptop on a stack of pillows, which keeps you from looking down and bending your neck. You can also sit on a firm cushion and prop pillows behind your lower spine to support your back, says Darlene Marshall, C.P.T., a personal trainer and wellness coach.
2. Invest in ergonomic equipment.
If it’s in your budget, add a couple ergonomic products to your workstation. For example, a chair with built-in lumbar support can help prevent slouching; lumbar cushions, which can be added to existing chairs, are cheaper alternatives. A computer riser (or even a couple big books) will raise your laptop to eye level, helping prevent neck and shoulder pain. Marshall also suggests purchasing an external, split keyboard. This will keep your shoulders in a neutral position, as it will allow your hands to rest separately, she says.
3. Position your computer correctly.
When raising your computer screen, avoid placing it too high up. Otherwise, you’ll end up craning (and straining) your neck. Take a tip from Gugliotti and align the upper third of the screen with your eyes. The screen itself should also be an arm’s length away, he adds. If you’re using a laptop, “consider getting an external monitor or keyboard,” recommends Marshall. This will “keep you from leaning down into the monitor.” If that’s not possible, tip your screen upward so you don’t have to bend your neck to see.
4. Practice the right sitting position.
Once you’ve repositioned your computer, check in with your body, too. Rest your feet flat on the floor and place your hips and knees at 90-degree angles, says Gugliotti. Keep your mid-back upright, which helps align your hips, torso and shoulders. Position your head “directly over your neck with your chin slightly tucked,” he adds. These essential tweaks will help prevent uncomfortable slouching and, ultimately, muscle pain and tension.
5. Stretch it out.
Although regular exercise can keep aches and pains at bay, it’s also wise to stretch throughout the workday. Gugliotti suggests this stretch: Move your head to one side, bringing your ear toward your shoulder. This stretches your upper trapezius, a muscle in your neck and upper back. After slouching for a long time, you can also open up your chest by placing your forearms against the doorway and stepping through with elbows at 90 degrees, suggests Alyssa Kuhn, D.P.T., physical therapist and founder of Keep the Adventure Alive.
According to Marshall, prolonged sitting compresses the front of your hip joint and causes knee, back and hip pain, so it’s definitely worth stretching your hip flexors. Try the butterfly stretch, pigeon pose or seated figure-four stretch, which involves placing your ankle on the opposite knee and bending your torso forward.
Practicing good posture at home takes, well, practice. This can be tricky if you’re used to the fancy ergonomic equipment in the office, but it’s worth the effort—promise! In time, these WFH strategies can help reduce pain and discomfort, both during and after work.