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Whether you’re in the office or working from home, you’re probably reading this because you’re someone who sits at a desk for long periods of time every day and works on a computer. You might be experiencing lower back pain from sitting at your desk, or just curious about the best way to prevent pain from sitting.
And it’s a good question to ask! After all, if you’re working a desk job, you spend eight—or more!—hours every day sitting in front of your computer, so you want to make sure the way you’re sitting isn’t putting unnecessary stress on your neck, back, nervous system and body as a whole.
Here, we’ll talk about all things posture, from desk set-up and home office ergonomics, to how to sit properly, to the ideal monitor height and mouse position. We’ll answer questions like:
- What are the benefits of proper posture?
- What is the correct sitting posture?
- How can you correct your posture when sitting at your desk?
- What is the best ergonomic desk height?
- What is the best office chair for back pain?
- Where should lumbar support be?
What are the benefits of proper posture?
Proper posture, good posture, and home office ergonomics all sound great—but what are the actual benefits? There are many! Beyond reducing or eliminating lower back pain, proper posture and a good desk set-up also contributes to reduction in head and neck tension, reduced headaches, increased energy levels (because your muscles aren’t strained and working overtime), improved circulation, and improved core strength. It also puts you less at risk of chronic pain, injury and conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
What is the correct sitting posture?
We get asked a lot about how to sit properly—not just to avoid and relieve lower back pain, but prevent it too. The correct sitting posture allows your spine and back to be in their natural position. Both of your feet should be on the floor, with your knees at a 90-degree angle, and your arms, shoulders and elbows should be at a 90-degree angle as well. Below, read more in depth on how you can set up your desk to make sure you have the correct posture.
How can you correct your posture when sitting at your desk?
When people are sitting down for a long period of time or working at a desk, it’s common that they’ll end up slouching. Many people work on laptops, which right off the bat is too low to allow you to have proper posture. Good home office ergonomics are key in correcting your posture to help reduce or even eliminate pain. The good news? There are several simple steps you can take in your desk-set up or workstation set-up to help improve your posture.
- Adjust your chair’s armrests: Having a proper chair is a great first step (we see you, trying to use your kitchen table as a work set-up—don’t do it!), but how you set it up matters. First, look at your armrests—you don’t want them to be too low or too high, and you want them to always support the weight of your arms. The armrests should be positioned so your elbows, arms and shoulders are at a 90-degree angle when you’re sitting at your desk, with the keyboard straight in front of you.
- Adjust your chair position and height: Your chair should be placed in a spot that means you’re close to the desk, and your feet should be able to rest on the floor. See steps 3 and 4 below for a bit more detail on how to achieve this!
- Position your screen to be at eye level: The above set-up may put your chair at a great height for your arms, legs and elbows while working at your computer, but it’s not always so great for eye level. Where your screen is placed on your desk matters too. Proper monitor height or laptop screen height, with your screen at a good distance from your eyes, means you’ll be able to look at your screen without squinting or poking your head forward. Aim for your screen or monitor to be about arm’s length away from you. If the screen is too low (and it probably is if you’re on a laptop, which so many of us use) one easy solution is to find some old books and stack them underneath your laptop to get it to the right height.
- Keep your hips and knees at a 90-degree angle: This will help you avoid putting extra stress on your back and hip flexors. If you need to, you can use some carpet tiles or more old books to help with this. You can also purchase (or if you’re able to, ask your employer for) an ergonomic foot rest to use under your desk.
- Support your back. This means no slouching! Adding extra support for your lower back is going to be especially helpful if you’re experiencing lower back pain. You could use a lumbar roll, or even a rolled up towel. Put it on your chair behind your lower back, where your arch is. This will both help to prevent slouching, and also support the natural curvature of the spine.
- Position your keyboard and mouse. They should be close enough to you to avoid any shoulder strain from reaching—around the length of your forearm from the edge of the desk. This will allow you to keep a proper typing posture. Your mouse position ideally will be right next to your laptop or keyboard to avoid unnecessary strain.
- Support your wrist: This is key to help prevent straining your wrist, especially if you’ll be using your mouse for more than three hours a day. You can get a wrist pad or even use a small towel under your forearm. A wireless mouse is a great investment!
- Minimize screen reflection and glare. It’s key to avoid glare from windows or other light sources, because this will not only cause eye strain, it may also cause slouching or strain from the shifts in position you end up making to try to avoid it.
- Take regular breaks. Setting up an ergonomic workspace doesn’t mean staying in one position all day! Make sure you’re moving around—for example, you can set a timer to take a break every half hour to walk around, even if it’s just for a minute to go to the printer and back. Some people use the “20/20” rule: for every minute of work, take a 20-second break. A few more ideas: get up and touch your toes, roll your shoulders, stand up and sit down five times, stretch each hand, wrist and fingers for 15 seconds each, do 20 seconds of push-ups, sit-ups, arm overhead stretches, or 20 seconds of wrist rotations.
- Wake up your muscles. While you’re sitting, you can also move around in your chair, which can help to reduce pain and increase blood flow. Just be mindful of not spending too much time in the wrong position. When you’re sitting at your desk, you can also do small contractions, simple things like glute squeezes or scapular squeezes, to engage and wake up your muscles.
Watch our video on home office ergonomics to see visuals of how to set up your desk
What is the best ergonomic desk height?
Office ergonomics standards state that the standard, ergonomic desk height is between 20 and 30 inches tall. Depending on the desk you have, you may need to make some adjustments to your workstation to make sure you’re achieving the correct sitting posture. For example, as we outlined above, it could be as simple as placing books below your laptop to raise its height and the eye level of your screen, or placing books or a footrest below your feet to help them rest comfortably on the ground.
What is the best office chair for back pain?
This has been one of the most common questions people have asked us, especially as so many people switched to working from home during the pandemic. As comfortable as your couch or bed may seem, it’s definitely not the ideal work set-up, nor is your everyday kitchen chair! When you’re looking for an office chair for back pain, or you’re just looking to choose the right chair for your home office, there are a few things you want to look for:
- Adjustable height: You want to be able to lower or raise your seat so that your legs, arms and eyes are all positioned properly, as we outlined above.
- A chair with armrests: Adjustable armrests are ideal so you can ensure your arms will be at a 90 degree angle to your keyboard and mouse.
- Adjustable backrest or tilt: Many chairs are made so you can adjust your chair angle by moving your backrest forward or backward or up and down, and come with locking mechanisms to lock the backrest in place once it’s adjusted to your liking.
- Lumbar support: Look for a chair with a contoured backrest that will match your spine’s natural curvature, preventing slouching and slumping.
- Breathable, comfortable material: You want a chair that will be comfortable to sit in for a long period of time, while also not too soft so it still offers you adequate support. Breathable material will also help keep you cool and comfortable.
- Swivel mechanisms: This will allow you to easily move around your workstation and turn when needed, avoiding unnecessary strain.
Where should lumbar support be?
As we mentioned above, lumbar support is a key part of setting up your desk and chair for proper posture. Your back’s lumbar area plays a huge role in supporting your upper body throughout the day. It’s also responsible for torso movements like side-to-side and twisting, it protects your spinal nerves, and it controls sensation and movement in your legs. That’s why lumbar support is so important, especially if you’re experiencing pain. The lumbar support should be on the small of your back, slightly above your waist, helping maintain the natural curvature of your spine. If you have the support too low, it will cause your body to slouch forward and can contribute to muscle pain and tension. If it’s too high, it puts pressure on muscles, nerves and blood vessels higher up, and also leaves your lower back vulnerable to pain.
A few simple changes can make a huge difference in how your body feels, and can even prevent future pain and injury. Looking for a physiotherapy clinic in Toronto or have more questions? Contact us at Endeavour to learn more and book your treatment.
The medical information on this blog is provided as an information resource only and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. This information does not create any patient-therapist relationship and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment.
Please consult your health care provider before making any health care decisions or for guidance about a specific medical condition. Endeavour Sports Performance and Rehabilitation and its practitioners expressly disclaim responsibility, and shall have no liability, for any damages, loss, injury, or liability whatsoever suffered as a result of your reliance on the information contained in this article.