Desk Related Injuries

Sitting at a desk and operating a computer may seem like a harmless activity. However because the human body was designed for movement it does not tolerate this immobility and repetitive action for long periods. The most common musculo-skeletal injuries caused by computer/desk work are:

  • Back, neck and shoulder problems
  • Repetitive strain (tendon) Disorders e.g. tennis elbow, de Quervains Tenosynovitis
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Eye/Vision problems e.g. headaches, eye strain

Setting up your workstation

There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to desk set up as each individual will present with different past injuries and postural anomalies. However the guidelines below are a great starting point from which to work. If in doubt ask you practitioner for guidance as Osteopath’s are trained in work station set up (ergonomics).

Monitor distance – as far as comfortable without having to strain to see – distance allows the eyes to relax.

Monitor height – the top of the computer should be at a height no higher than eye height.

Chair height – the chair should be low enough so that the feet can rest on the ground. However if the keyboard/desk height cannot be adjusted a higher chair may be required in combination with a footrest.

desk setup

Seated posture – the optimal hip angle is greater than 130 degrees. This allows the vertebrae increased alignment. A slight recline into the chair allows the low back muscles to relax and decreases the spine is required to support less weight therefore reducing pressure on intervertebral discs.

Knees – knee angle should change regularly and not stay fixed in a single position or at a fixed angle. Avoid crossing legs when seated at your desk.

Keyboard height – should be at elbow height or below so that the forearms can rest comfortably on the desk without causing the shoulders to hunch up.

Keyboard distance – the keyboard may be pushed back on the workstation to allow the forearms to rest supported on the desk. Make sure the wrists are kept straight.

Mouse placement – the mouse should be placed as close to the keyboard as possible. Consider alternating between your dominant and non-dominant hand to avoid repetitive strain injuries.

Breaks – short breaks should be taken on a regular basis.  A good approach is to take 15-minute breaks every 2 hours. In this time get up from your seat, take a short walk and perform some stretches (see below). In addition, short 30-second breaks every 10 minutes should be incorporated to prevent injury.


Stretching and mobility exercises are an important way to help the body maintain its flexibility and joint mobility. I would recommend incorporating a short stretching routine into your day.  In order to help prompt the memory link your stretching to a regular daily activity such as bathroom breaks or tea/coffee breaks. Another great way to remind you is to set up your computer to alert you at intervals with reminders to stretch and move.

Below are a few stretches I recommend to help keep you feeling good through the work day:

stretch one

Thoracic and rib stretch:

Reach forwards and link your hands under your thighs. Curve your back and pull upwards against your legs. You should feel a gentle stretch through your middle and upper spine and ribs.

stretch two

Neck stretches:

Sit on your right band. Tilt your left ear to your left shoulder. You should feel a stretch down the right side of your neck. Repeat left.

Tuck your chin into your chest. Gently rock your head side to side.

stretch three

Chest stretch:

Link your hands behind your back (palms together) and pull backwards. You will feel this stretching across the front of your chest.

stretch four

Forearm stretches:

With a straight elbow palm facing upwards use your other hand to extend your wrist so that your fingers and hand are pointing downwards.

Repeat with palm facing downwards