Working from home
An ironing board can become a sit stand desk. It’s adjustable to suit different height chairs. It can be raised up if you want to stand. And if you’re demonstrating something, you can alter the height accordingly. There’s more versatility to an ironing board than meets the eye!
A larger sit stand desk would be more appropriate if you need more space on your desk, whether for work or study or for a hobby. But for simple day to day usage, an ironing board is a simple and effective solution and doesn’t take up too much space.
Posture – shoulders raised too high
When typing, we want to have relaxed shoulders. If our chair is too low, our shoulders will raise up to our ears. The two options are to raise the chair height or to lower the table height. At home, most people don’t have adjustable height chairs. They may be sitting on a dining chair or a chair in the bedroom. So this is where an adjustable height table comes in. Lower the ironing board (or sit stand desk) and that will be more comfortable.
If you don’t have an ironing board or a table that you can alter, try putting some books or cushions on the chair. That might help with your shoulders. But then are your feet dangling? If so, put some books or cushions to rest your feet onto.
Posture – table too low
If you can’t adjust your chair and your table is too low, you might be hunched over to the desk, rounding your back and neck. This is where it’s useful to raise the height of the table. If you don’t have an ironing board, you can put your laptop or keyboard on some books so that when you’re typing, your forearms are parallel to the keyboard.
Talk with me
In my online sessions, I can have a look at your furniture set up and advise on any adjustments needed. I have a very practical approach and try to use equipment you already have in your house – cushions or pillows, books, recipe stands etc – rather than advocating buying something expensive. If you do want to buy some furniture, I can recommend what to look out for. As well as my many years of Alexander experience, I’m a trained DSE ergonomics assessor and know what to look out for.
I was visiting a friend at the weekend and their 9 year old was using the computer for his homework. Whilst this looked a lot more fun than homework was in my day, it might not be fun in the long term (or even short term) for his back.
He was sitting at the kitchen table. His feet didn’t reach the floor. He was working at a laptop with a small screen so was having to dip his head to read the screen. He was only using one hand to type and was twisted as he reached over the keyboard. Because of this, his right shoulder was higher than the left, his back and neck were twisting and he was coming off his right sitting bone a bit.
Kids use computers for homework and computer games, browsing and drawing. It is a disaster in waiting if we don’t address their posture – backache, neck pain, shoulder pain, tight hips are all waiting to leap at a potentially young age. There are also implications for eyesight problems too if they stare at a screen for too long, keeping a limited focal distance
So, what can be done to help things? Here are a few ideas:
- Awareness, awareness, awareness. Parents, carers, teachers and young people all need to know that using our body well is as important as using the computer well. Think posture first.
- Chair Height – shoulders. The chair seat needs to be high enough so the forearms are parallel to the keyboard without raising the shoulders. If the forearms are sloping upwards, the chair is too low. Use books or a cushion to raise the seat height if it’s not an adjustable chair.
- Chair Height – legs. If their feet don’t reach the ground or aren’t flat on the floor, put something under their feet. Either some books/blocks or a small stool if they are really little. Their thighs should be parallel to the floor.
- Screen Height. Ideally, the top of the screen should be level with the eyes. A separate keyboard is helpful for laptops so the laptop or netbook can be propped up on something to raise the screen height.
- Watch for twisting or slumping. There’s a lot more to this than meets the eye which is where a trained Alexander Technique practitioner can advise. But at least start to look at their posture and notice what is going on. Also keep an eye on your own posture as children mimic adults. I find that parents who bring their children to me to look at their posture are often slumped in the chair during our appointment!
- Don’t “Sit Up Straight!” Following the above point, sitting up straight makes people hitch up and be stiff. They often arch the lower back and push the chin up too far. Instead, see if they can wriggle onto their sitting bones. More gentle and may be more effective.
If adults and children are sharing a computer, then these adjustments needed to be made for each person. It’s tempting to think that we’re only going to use the computer for a bit but we do tend to get a bit sucked in and then find we’re on it for longer than intended.
I’m happy to work with children. They often only need a few sessions. I do prefer that the parent/carer also has lessons with me. It helps the adult have an experience and greater understanding of what we’re working with and will help them with their child as they can share ideas and insights.
To avoid neck strain, the top of your computer monitor should be at eye level, about an arm’s length away. Our eyes naturally look about 15 degrees down and so will then naturally look onto the screen.
There are various bits of equipment that you can buy to raise the screen but a cheap and cheerful option is to prop it up on some large books.
For laptops, it’s a different scenario as the screen is invariably too low and may even be a little close. This is fine if only using the laptops for short periods of time. If you are using a laptop a lot and don’t need it to be too portable, you can buy a separate keyboard and mouse. Ideally, the keyboard should be a “low profile” keyboard – one that is fairly flat. You can then prop the laptop up, an arm’s length away, with the top of the monitor at eye level. There are different types of kit available for this including ones that are like cookery book holders and others that are like bean bags. But, once again, you can always prop the laptop up on some large books.
Posturally, it is not good to push your head and neck forward to read the screen. This can cause neck pain, back and shoulder strain. It’s worth getting your eyes tested regularly to ensure you can see clearly. You can also look at getting a larger screen or adjusting the print size on screen. But also trust your eyes as pushing the head forward may just be an unnecessary habit.
So as well as thinking about your computer set up, think about your body and how you use it.