Working from home—while laying in you bed in PJS—can seem fun, but it turns out that a makeshift workspace at your home can do you more harm than you can think. Lack of an ergonomic setup can affect your back, neck and knees and even damage your eyesight and posture. “People are used to working in a particular environment as most corporate offices provide at least a basic ergonomic setup for their employees. But with people now working from home without a formal desk setup, I have seen a rise in the number of people complaining of lower back pain, neck pain and knee pain. People who did not have the symptoms are getting sudden catches in neck and back, and people with symptoms are getting worse,” says Dr Girish Bhalerao, consultant orthopaedic surgeon, Wockhardt Hospital, Mumbai. Here’s what you can do to improve your at-home workspace to prevent muscle and joint aches and pains.

Designate a workspace where you can sit straight

If you have the space, designating a desk space is ideal. “Try to have a desk that is atleast 75cm high, and an adjustable chair that’s atleast 55cm high,” says Dr Bhalerao. You’ll want the area to be well-lit, with overhead lights incase you’ll work into the night.

“When you stoop forward as you sit, the curves in the spine get reversed. The back muscles that support this curve get altered in their anatomy when you bend as it’s not the normal axis of their action, making them go into a protective spasm,” says Dr Bhalerao. “These back muscles have the ability to give a prolonged contracture without getting fatigued. But when you put them in an abnormal posture, the back gets accustomed to this mechanical spasm,” explains Dr Bhalerao. So when you come back to your normal posture, these muscles are not flexible enough to let go of the spasm, causing back pain issues that persist.

Supplement your laptop with external devices

“With laptops, when the mouse and screen are attached to the keyboard, you tend to bend forward and tilt your head which can cause aches in the collar muscles, upper back and shoulders. Instead try to attach an external keyboard and mouse so they can be closer to you, while leaving the monitor further away at eye level,” he says. This helps maintain a minimum distance of 45 to 75 cm between the eyes and screen and helps you keep it at eye level (depending on the screen size, font and your vision.

Reach for a cushion

Keep a small towel roll or a cushion at the lower back, just above where you wear your belt. “This will help with lumbar arch support,” says Dr Bhalerao. Making sure your back is resting against the cushion will help maintain a straighter posture too.

Try to include a foot stool

When your feet are simply hanging, or you twist your legs for too long, it can cause joint pain in your knees. “The knee is the largest synovial joint in the body, and the cartilage in the knees gets its range of motion and nutrition through this fluid. The synovial fluid is like ketchup. When the bottle’s been standing long, it’s tough to get the ketchup out, but when you shake it it becomes thin,” he confirms. When you place your knees in a posture for long (like a cross-legged position), the synovial fluid becomes thicker. This can cause trauma to the cartilage in the process. “Having your leg flat on the surface will help,” he says.

Keep taking breaks

Even if you have the best setup, taking breaks is super important. “Take a break every 40 minutes. You could take a stroll so that your legs and shoulders can stretch, and you can give your eyes a few minutes of rest too,” he says. Trying to work while standing can help, so if your desk is high enough to be a standing desk, employ that. If not, try taking calls while standing or walking around to mix things up.

These simple desk stretches will help prevent back and neck pain

  1. 1Bring your fingers to your shoulders and move them clockwise and anti-clockwise.
  2. 2For an elbow press, make a fist and hold it in front with elbows at 90 degrees. Bring it to your shoulders and down, and repeat.
  3. 3Move your chin forward and backwards to exercise the base of your neck.
  4. 4For a middle backstretch, keep your hands at 90 degrees at the side, and move them like you would when you would jog.
  5. 5To stretch your neck, looking at the ceiling, feel the stretch, count to 10 and come to a neutral position. Next, look downward do the same. Repeat this stretch for each side, and end with a 180 degree roll, clockwise and anticlockwise.