5 ways to make the kitchen table as ergonomic as possible
Apply these five steps to help make your days working from home as pain free as possible
Covid-19 has imposed global change upon all workplaces pushing remote setups from home as the new workplace norm. Transforming everyday kitchen tables and spare room desks junk piled with crap into double- screened -video -linked- offices. Throw in 2 (perhaps even 3) kids that conveniently need now to be homeschooled and it’s a recipe for chaos or a nervous breakdown.
If you are working from home don’t brush off and dismiss the new daily aches and pains you are starting to feel. This new work norm could be the way things are for two or even 6months. I have already seen a spike in my clinic of people presenting with ‘kitchen table disorder’: varying complaints of new neck pains and back related disorders. If you’re lucky, your company may supply you with a desk and correct chair. But, if you’re among the less fortunate majority, you are going to have to take matters into your own hands.
So, stop now, evaluate your body. How’s your posture? How is your neck currently doing? Have you adopted a position craning over your laptop at the coffee table? Is one leg tucked up under you at the kitchen table or are you sitting contorted around miscellaneous crap and kids toys under the spare desk?
Follow these five essential and simple steps so you don’t end up at my office as a kitchen- table- disaster- case!
Step 1: Get comfy
Slide your chair back from your table/ desk and first try to find where ‘comfortable’ is. Now imagine you are sitting in the passenger seat of a car. Your feet are on the floor in front of you; your hands rest in your lap; shoulders relaxed, you lean back just a bit, your head supported. Your butt is nestled into the fold of the chair – behind you.
It’s comfortable, right? This is what chiropractors call your natural posture.’ Seated in this manner, your pelvis is positioned so that the vertebrae in your spine are stacked properly. The natural postural curves are maintained, and the whole length of your spine can open as you breathe. Memorise this ‘natural posture.’
Since we’ve always been taught to “sit- up- straight” and to tuck your tailbone under, for some, this won’t be an easy change to make. To help make this easier, try engaging your core to lift up your torso and pretend you have a little tail that you don’t want to sit on. You can now start to create your remote-office ergonomic workstation at the table or desk.
Step 2: Choose the right chair
Your chair is your next hurdle. Chances are the first exercise I gave you about ‘getting comfortable’ highlighted that the kitchen table chair isn’t your best ergonomic friend. If you discovered that you had one leg tucked up and under, your feet behind you, or in another funky position, your current chair needs to be addressed. Your workstation chair needs to support your spine, your pelvis and ultimately your posture.
Don’t get roped into thinking that the most expensive chair is the one you need to buy. There are many styles of chairs to choose from, but I believe there are only three important things to really look out for. It’s as easy as A,B and C
A Shape. Maintaining good natural posture requires that your lower back is always comfortably supported. With your tailbone sticking out just slightly, your lumbar spine (lower back) should curve slightly inward toward your belly. To help you sustain this posture, find a chair that ‘A’ provides good lumbar support.
B Depth. When you are seated, there should always be a gap between the edge of your chair and the back of your knees, of about 5 fingers. My second tip is to find a seat with the perfect depth for you rather than buying something fancy and then trying to adjust the seat depth to fit you.
C Angle. The angle of your hips is the key. Firstly when you sit, your feet need to be in front of you on the floor (not happily swinging beneath you). Secondly your knees are slightly bent and thighs slightly below your hips. As a chiropractor I see a wide range of back disorders resulting from failing to get this leg angle right. So at home whilst you are forced to sit at the table- take the time to sort out the seat angle. Be creative, shorter people (like me) need to utilise a footrest, whilst taller folks may need to adjust the height of the desk, table and monitor.
Step 3: Setting up your screen(s)
Setting up your screen(s) really isn’t complicated. Follow these three steps, and you’ll be set.
A Distance. To find the perfect distance for your monitor, simply sit back and extend your arm. The tip of your middle finger should touch your screen. That’s it.
If you have two monitors, ensure they are set up side by side (no gap). If you use both screens equally, have your monitors positioned centrally otherwise place your secondary monitor slightly off-center. Now, sit back and test your setup. Extend your arm and pan across your screens. As you pan your arm in an arch, your finger tip should almost always touch the monitors. Now take this same approach when arranging other items, like document holders, glass of water etc.
B Height. To get your screen height right, try this trick I was taught. Firstly close your eyes and then open them- your eyes should land on the address bar. If not, lower or raise your monitors accordingly, with a book or whatever means possible.
C Angle. Lastly, to avoid reflections and tension headaches at 3 pm tilt your monitors down just a touch.
Poor screen setup results in what I have termed “hump back”, it’s a disorder of the upper back causing forward head, rounding of the shoulders and over time irreversible arthritis. The picture below shows a poster I created with a selection of my clients x-rays depicting postural decay and the rise of irreversible arthritis. Check out our blog post all about the 30kg head here.
Step 4: Keyboard and mouse
Step 4 is the hardest and why I left it till last. I will be completely honest with you too. If your only option is the kitchen table – you will just have to do the best you can here. The goal is to set up your keyboard and mouse so that your elbows rest comfortably by your sides, with your arms at or below an angle of 90-degrees. Getting this step right will reduce hunching and rounding of your shoulders and wrist RSI. If your workstation is the kitchen table you are going to struggle and here’s why.
A Height. Experts say the ideal position for your keyboard is no more than 10cm above your thighs. Which realistically requires a pull-out keyboard tray. lowering your desk is an option if you can, but ultimately the keyboard tray is a preferred method. Here’s why.
B Tilting away. So that your arms and hand follow the downward slope of your thighs, your keyboard should ideally be positioned with a negative tilt -down and away from you.
C Shoulders. Your goal now is position your keyboard and mouse within the range of your shoulders from tip to tip and as level as possible.
Smaller keyboards are fabulous, especially if you don’t require a keyboard without a number pad. This is because the number pad puts the letter keys off-center. A smaller keyboard also permits you to bring your mouse in closer keeping your set up cleanly between the tips of your two shoulders…do your best.
Step 5: Get up, Jump around and jiggle
No matter how ergonomic your workstation, remembering to jump up, jiggle and stretch- is the number one piece of advice as a chiropractor I can give you in order to keep you out of my office and to prevent long term spinal and health issues that arise from poor ergonomics and prolonged sitting.
Make the effort to take a short break every 45 minutes to get up, jump around, jiggle about and have a quick stretch.
We’ve put together a set of easy at-the-table office stretches for you to try.
Good luck and leave a comment on how you go!
Dr Geoff Cowie and Vitality Team