Teleworking can be hard on your back

Following these easy steps will help you reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders

Illustration of right and wrong ways to sit at a desk


This content is provided to Johns Hopkins employees through a partnership with EHP.

Standing, sitting, and moving incorrectly all increase your risk of musculoskeletal disorders. Why? Because posture problems overwork your body. They strain your muscles and tendons and stress your joints. With a little adjustment, however, you can correct most posture problems. Whatever you do, try to stay in a near neutral position and to work within easy reach. Tasks take less force when you work from a stable base. And take your knowledge of ergonomic principles home with you.

Stay near neutral

Whether you're standing or sitting, neutral posture places the least amount of stress on your body. To find neutral, line up your ears, shoulders, and hips. Keep your head upright and relax while you do this. If you're holding your breath or your shoulders are creeping toward your ears, try again. Your shoulders should be level, with your arms relaxed at your sides. You can rest your body by returning to neutral as often as possible. Other helpful positions:

  • Keep your head level, facing forward, and in line with your torso. If you need to change direction, move your whole body instead of twisting.
  • When seated, keep your hands, wrists, and forearms straight and parallel to the floor.

  • Your feet should be supported by the floor and your thighs and hips supported by a padded seat.

  • If you're sitting, it's important to have your lower back supported.

Work within reach

Keep your work within 14 to 18 inches of your body, depending on your size. Reaching too far can be awkward. It also reduces your muscle power, so you need to use more force. Never lock a joint by extending it until it can't go any farther. Also, avoid reaching overhead or behind your back, if you can. If you can't, return to neutral as soon as possible.

Support your body off the job

Have you thought about your posture while you clean house or watch TV? Anytime you're not using a neutral posture, you might be straining muscles or joints. Just sitting on a sagging sofa every evening may be enough to strain your back. Remember these tips:

  • When relaxing, support your body so you're comfortable and not twisted. On a couch or chair, put a rolled-up pillow behind your back to support it.

  • No matter what you're doing (cooking, cleaning, carpentry), work within reach.

  • A comfortable mattress that's firm but has enough cushion to support your body's natural curves provides better rest and opportunity for your body to recover from the demands of the day. An old, sagging, lumpy mattress can be doing your body harm.

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