Many residents are still required to work from home or are choosing to do so while Columbia slowly reopens for business.

Although working from the couch might sound comfy, the lack of an office workspace can actually be painful.

“You want to be comfortable because the more comfortable you are, the more productive you are,” said Jennifer Thornhill, a certified ergonomics assessment specialist in Columbia.

“Working from home, the biggest issue is most people have laptops, and so it’s usually the neck, the shoulder, the upper back and the lower back that is affected.”

Leaning over a laptop while sitting on a bed or couch can be hard on one’s neck and back.

To avoid craning the neck, Thornhill recommends elevating your computer monitor by stacking it on top of books or board games so it’s at eye level.

While working from a couch, it’s necessary to have the back support commonly offered by an office chair. Thornhill recommends placing a firm pillow behind your back.

When sitting, “you should be straight from you hip to your knee and have a 90-degree angle at your knee,” she said.

For people who prefer to stand while working, Thornhill suggested using an ironing board with adjustable heights as a makeshift desk.

Strive for a 90-degree angle at your elbows so your wrists are flat on the keyboard.

Thornhill also recommended standing on a kitchen mat to reduce the stress on your legs and knees.

“You want to make sure that you are aligned properly so you are not bending in any way for a long period of time. That can put stress on the muscles,” Thornhill said.

“You don’t want to just be putting pressure on any one area of the body for a long period of time.”

You can avoid being stuck in one position for too long by setting timers on your phone to remind you to move around every once in a while.

“Take breaks every 45 minutes. Get up, walk around, stretch. Move your body,” she said.

“Lighting is a big deal,” Thornhill added. “There are a lot of people right now that may not have adequate lighting, and so they’re looking at their computer screen, which can contribute to migraines.”

Lighting in the room should not be harsh and glaring, but you should also avoid working in the dark.

Lighting on the computer screen can also be adjusted.

Thornhill recommends Flux, a free app that filters blue light, which can disrupt sleep by suppressing melatonin and can potentially cause disease, according to a Harvard Health Letter.

These suggestions not only apply to adult workers, but also to children who are completing their schoolwork remotely.

“The biggest concern for me is hands cramping because they’re holding their phone or their tablet for a long period of time,” Thornhill said about her own children.

Looking at a phone or tablet for prolonged periods of time can cause pain and stiffness in hands and wrists.

The poor posture associated with using a smartphone is sometimes referred to as “text neck” and can cause uncharacteristically early stress on the spine, according to an article by The Washington Post.

“I call it turtle-necking,” Thornhill said. “And the one thing that I tell my kids is you have to get up and take a break from it.”

Thornhill recommends minimizing children’s screen time and ensuring they use only one device at a time.

More suggestions and resources to evaluate working stations can be found at the website of MU’s Adaptive Computer Technology Center.

For more COVID-19 related news, see our section dedicated to COVID-19 updates.
  • Public Life reporter, spring 2020 Studying investigative journalism and political science Reach me at, or in the newsroom at 882-5700.

  • I've been a reporter and editor at Missouri community newspapers for 35 years and joined the Columbia Missourian in 2003. My emphasis at the Missourian is on local government and elections. You can reach me at or at 573-884-5366.

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