Let’s talk about desks and sitting. It’s a common topic at the moment and let’s be honest, sitting has become a dirty word for many healthcare providers. We know prolonged sedentary behaviours are bad for our health and that poor posture can lead to unnecessary stress on muscles and joints, which in turn can cause a range of problems, from headaches to low back pain.
But if the majority of your work takes place at a desk, in front of a computer, it can be difficult to manage your day without sitting for long periods. Fortunately, there are tips and tricks to making your workplace more ergonomic and therefore, more comfortable and better for your health.
1. Set Your Desk Up Well
In this age of hot desking, it is important to know how to set your desk up in the best way possible for you.Minor tweaks to your positioning can make a huge difference.
Below is an explanation of the best possible way to set up your workstation and at the end of this blog is an easy checklist which you can print out and keep on your desk.
Your chair should be at a height where your feet are flat on the ground, but with a 90 degree angle at your knees. If you can’t get your feet to the floor, ask for a stool or a box to put your feet on. Pull your chair in nice and close to your desk.
The back of your chair should be reclined by 10-20 degrees and you should sit at the very back of your chair, allowing it to support you. This will allow some space across the front of your hips and allow your shoulders to sit wide and will prevent any temptation to sit forward which would cause your upper body to slump which can shorten your neck muscles and hip flexors, contributing to low back and neck pain.
Sitting in this way also means your postural muscles aren’t having to work all day to try and hold you up. They aren’t designed for this purpose which means when they fatigue, you tend to fall into postures which can contribute to musculoskeletal discomfort.
What a difference a chair makes! Notice the head and neck posture in the first photo where Sarah sits at the front of her chair, versus the second photo where she is sitting with her back supported.
As a general rule, we say that your eyes should be level with the top third of your screen, which should leave your head and neck in a neutral position so long as the majority of the content you’re looking at is centered in the middle of the screen. You should be able to see the bottom of your screen without having to drop your whole head down.
Your screen should sit roughly arm length away from you, but this may be variable depending on your personal preference, eyesight etc. The main thing to remember is that we don’t want you falling forward or putting strain on your eyes in order to see your screen.
If you have two screens, try to position yourself so that the majority of your work is on one screen and physically swivel your entire chair around to face the other screen when you need to. Try to avoid constantly moving between your two screens.
Desk Height / Keyboard / Mouse
Your desk should be at a height where your knees comfortably fit beneath the desk, ideally with feet flat on the floor or on a step. You should not feel as though your shoulders are excessively shrugging and your elbows should have a 90 degree angle.
Your should not be reaching your arm out to access your keyboard and mouse. They should be comfortably accessible with a bent elbow. If you regularly need to read documents, do not put the paper in front of your keyboard, instead utilise a document holder and position it close to your monitor so you can easily read from it without excessive neck movement.
If you do the majority of your work with your mouse, move your keyboard aside and position your mouse so you are not reaching out to the side. Similarly, if you work using a pad or mostly on the keyboard, position this tool in front of the natural line of your dominant hand to avoid excessive reaching.
If you use your phone frequently, ensure you have a headset or wireless headphones if you are using your mobile phone, especially if you take a lot of notes to avoid holding the phone between your ear and shoulder.
If you’re using a laptop, buy yourself a wireless keyboard and mouse and raise the height of the laptop to the recommended level. This is especially important if you take your laptop home to do work. Do not be tempted to do your work on the couch or in bed! Set yourself up correctly at home as well!
Sit to Stand Desks
We love sit to stand desks, but it’s important to utilise them just as well as a traditional seated desk. If you stand all day, but tend to put all of your weight on one leg, you’ll be putting unnecessary strain through one side of your body which could cause pain and discomfort.
Use sit to stand desks in a way that works for you. If you do your best work in the morning, stand first thing, ensuring you shift your weight around and don’t find yourself leaning elbows etc on your desk. Then, in the afternoon as you become more tired, sit as prescribed above and give your legs a break. If you’re not a morning person, reverse this and spend your afternoon standing.
You should set up your screen, keyboard, mouse and document holder for a standing desk in the same format as a seated desk.
As humans, we were not made to maintain single postures for a long time and so one of the best solutions to avoiding pain at work is movement.
Getting into the habit of movement at work can be incredibly rewarding and will make your body feel better at the end of each day. Often we need some reminders early on when we’re trying to implement new habits, so setting a reminder on your phone which goes off every 30-45 minutes can be a nice place to start, particularly if you’re someone who becomes easily absorbed in their work.
Something as simple as standing up every time you take a phone call, rolling your shoulders or gentle spinal and neck rotations can make a huge difference to how your body feels at the end of each day.
3. Learn to recognise stress postures
If you are someone who feels stress in their body and has a tendency to tense up, learn to recognise this and try to regularly undo it as a regular part of your day.
A nice way to do this is to take five deep breaths and with each exhalation gently and deliberately release any tension you may be holding in your jaw, forehead, shoulders, legs and arms.
4. Do what is right for you
While the above is the best possible general advice we can give, every person is different and something different will work for each person. If you feel your desk setup isn’t working for you or you don’t have access to the right equipment, talk to your healthcare provider and try to workshop some options. It’s almost impossible to find a perfect position, but we do our best to try to decrease tension and loading of your musculoskeletal structures to keep you happy, healthy and moving through your work life!
- Feet flat on the floor (or on a box)
- Chair reclined by 10-20 degrees & leaning back against the chair
- Knees angle at 90 degrees
- Chair pulled in nice and close to the desk
- Eyes level with the top third of the screen
- Majority of work on one screen, avoid moving constantly between two screens
Desk / Keyboard / Mouse
- Elbows at 90 degrees
- Comfortable access to keyboard & mouse
- Document holder if needed
- Position your most used work tool in front of your dominant hand so you do not have to reach out to the side to access it
- Headset or wireless headphones
- Raise the laptop to meet the recommended screen height
- Wireless keyboard
- Wireless mouse
- Vary your position throughout your day according to your natural energy rhythms
- Set an alarm on your phone to go off every half an hour and move!
- Shoulder rolls
- Gentle spinal rotations
- Gently dropping your neck side to side and looking over each shoulder
- 5 deep breaths, consciously relaxing the parts of your body where you hold stress
- Good places to start: Jaw, Shoulders, Forehead, Legs, Arms