I’ve said it before, but I’m going to say it again; too much sitting down is bad for your health! It makes losing weight very hard, is a leading cause of many diseases, and can wreak havoc on your posture. It’s also a leading cause of both neck and back pain.
The trouble is, as bad as sitting down is for you, it can be hard to avoid, especially if you have an office job.
If, like me, you work in an office, and also have to drive to and from work, you can end up clocking up as many as 16 hours a day of sitting. Daily exercise can help undo some of the damage caused to your body by sitting, but that hour a day is a drop in the ocean compared to all that time spent in a chair.
One way to reduce the impact that sitting has on your body is to make sure your desk at work is set up properly. A well set up workstation will put you into good posture, thus reducing lower back and neck pain. If you MUST sit for long periods, you’ll feel a whole lot better if you sit in a good position.
Of course, I still recommend that you try and stand up and move for five minutes every hour, and seek out other opportunities to move more and sit less too! You might also want to consider a standing workstation which is something I’ve been experimenting with lately.
How to set up your workstation
Follow this step-by-step guide to setting up the perfect workstation.
1. Your chair
A good office chair is a must for comfortable sitting and good posture. It needs to be firm and supportive, and adjustable so you can set it to the right height and sitting position. If your chair is old or uncomfortable, I suggest that you head out and buy yourself a new one (I currently use this one and recommend it, you can fit at amazon.com)!
Set up your chair for optimal comfort and posture:
- Push your hips as far back as they will go – there should be some space between the back of your knees and the chair
- Adjust the height so that, with both feet flat on the floor, your knees and hips are the same height. If you are short and your chair will not go low enough, use a footrest to raise your feet
- Lean the backrest backward very slightly – around 100-110 degrees
- Adjust the armrests so that, when your elbows are on them, your shoulders are down and relaxed
- Use a lumbar pad to keep your lower back slightly arched and keep you in good posture. Some chairs have one built in, but most don’t
2. Your desk
The height of your desk depends on the height of your chair and will probably not be that adjustable. If it’s too low, and your legs press against the underside, you can raise it on blocks. If it’s too low, you should ask your boss for a different desk or buy a new one if you have a home office. Just lowering your chair is not the solution!
When selecting a desk, make sure you consider the following:
- Make sure is big enough for all your work equipment. If it’s cluttered, you won’t be able to set your keyboard and screen up properly
- Your desk height should put your keyboard at around elbow-level when your arms are bent. Your forearms should be roughly parallel to the floor while you work
- Your desk should be sufficiently deep so that you can place your screen far enough back to ensure have to strain your eyes to look at it
- Make sure everything you need to use is within easy reach, so you don’t have to break good posture. A rolling chair can help
The desk I use at home, in my home office, is available at amazon.com.
3. Your keyboard and mouse
Even if your chair and desk are the right height for you, how you position your keyboard and mouse can still affect your posture.
- Place your keyboard directly in front of you. Because your keyboard will probably be asymmetrical, make sure the “B” key is centered to your body, with the numeric keys out to the side on your right
- Place your mouse as close to your keyboard as possible
- Adjust the height of your desk/chair/keyboard so that your wrists are straight while you type to avoid wrist strain and problems like carpal tunnel syndrome and repetitive strain injury (RSI)
- Consider buying an ergonomic keyboard and mouse or a wrist pad to keep your wrists in the right position for pain-free typing
I use Mac, so I use the wireless keyboard and mouse. You can also find it at amazon.com.
4. Your monitor
If you are using a desktop computer, you can adjust the position of your screen for optimal posture and comfort.
- Your screen should be approximately an arms’ length away from you
- The top of the screen should be roughly level with your eyes when you are sat in good posture
- The top of the screen should be angled slightly backward
- If you use two monitors, they should be side-by-side and angled slightly inward to form a shallow V-shape
But what if you have a laptop?
Laptops are the worst thing for posture. The screen is too low and too close to you, and the keyboard is too small. While laptops are useful for traveling, I don’t recommend them for long-term use, as it’s just about impossible to adopt a good sitting position.
If you have to use a laptop, I suggest that you make these changes. I did this for a couple of years when I had to use a laptop in my home office.
- Place the laptop on a box or stack of books to raise the screen to eye-height. Alternatively, you could also buy a laptop stand (I use this one available at amazon.com)
- Get a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse so you can use them instead of the ones built into your laptop. I use Mac wireless keyboard. You can find it at amazon.com
- You should now be able to work in a posture-friendly position that is easier on your back, neck, and wrists
What else can I do to reduce back and neck pain at the office?
A properly set up workstation can make a big difference to your sitting position, comfort, and posture, but it won’t work unless you put in some effort too. Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your new and improved workstation setup.
- Don’t slouch. Try to “float your head” on top of your neck, and do not crane your neck toward your screen
- Get your eyes tested so you don’t have difficulty seeing your screen. The less clearly you see your screen, the more likely you are to push your head forward
- Increase text size so you can see your screen easily and without straining
- Learn to type without having to look down at your hands all the time
- Take short 1-2 minute breaks every 20-30 minutes to break up long periods of sitting. I like to take five minutes off every hour or so
- Avoid eye strain and fatigue by focusing on something in the distance from time to time. Also cover your eyes with your hands for 10-15 seconds every hour or so
- Take a moment to move and stretch your neck and back whenever the opportunity arises. Here is a good five-minute stretching routine for lower back pain relief
- Strengthen your core muscles to make staying in good posture easier
Like most people, I’ve had my fair share of lower back and neck pain. And while some of my aches and pains have been unavoidable, mainly because they were caused by accidents, most were the result of sitting for too long and having a badly set up workstation. However, if you take some time setting up your workstation properly, you can eliminate one of the leading causes of back pain, neck pain, and poor posture.
1. Image credit: Buffer App
More About Back Pain
Learn more about back pain relief in my guide here.