6 months ago

How To Set Up Your Desk To Avoid Back Pain At Work 

Getting your desk and chair ergonomics right can make a huge difference over whether you feel back pain or not in the office.

How To Set Up Your Desk To Avoid Back Pain

Sitting down for extended periods can be seriously bad news for your back.

As it can lead to a weakening of the spinal discs and core muscles that support your spine.

Which means your back will receive less support both in and out of the chair.

However, if you work in an office and long hours sat at a desk are unavoidable don't despair.

As there are a few ways you can lower the risk of back pain from sitting such as: 

  • Taking a microbreak every half hour.
  • Stretching your body out regularly.
  • Maintaining a healthy sitting posture.
  • Staying active, fit and strong by exercising outside work.
  • Sitting in an ergonomic office chair.
  • Alternating between sitting and standing by using a sit/stand desk.
  • Getting the ergonomics of your desk set up right.

And for this article I'm going to focus on the last one.

As setting up your desk in the right way can relieve pressure on your body, help you to maintain a healthy posture, and keep your back a lot happier.

6 Rules You Need To Follow To Set Up Your Desk Right

So why is your desk set up so important for the health of your back?

Well having things at the wrong heights, distances and angles will force you to strain as you work.

And in many cases this will also make it impossible to maintain a healthy posture.

Which will just pile more pressure onto your already overworked back.

So read on and I'll take you through 6 key things you need to do to achieve the healthiest desk set-up possible.

1. Position The Screen Correctly

The position of the monitor on your desk is a crucial thing to get right, as it's the thing you are going to be focused on for the whole time you're using your computer.

And this will have a major impact on whether you can keep your body balanced and in alignment or not.

However, it's one thing that so many people get wrong, with two common mistakes being:

  • Having the monitor over to one side rather than in the center, meaning you have to strain your neck to one side to look at it.
  • And having the screen too low for your eye level meaning you are looking down at it, and in doing so tilting your neck which throws your spine out of alignment.

Both of these screen positions will only lead to pain and discomfort over the course of the day.

So instead follow these guidelines to get your monitor at exactly the right height and position to keep you healthy:

  • Your monitor should be at a height so that you are looking at the top of the screen at eye level when you are sitting in a good posture with your head up.
  • It should also be positioned centrally so you don't have to turn your body or neck to see it.
  • And it should be about an arms length away from you to avoid eyestrain and headaches.

So if your screen is too low raise it to the right height either with an adjustable monitor stand or by making your own using a pile of sturdy books.

2. Safe Laptop Use

Many people choose to work on their laptop rather than a desktop computer nowadays.

But while they give you more freedom and flexibility they can be even worse for giving people back pain.

This is because good posture goes out of the window when using a laptop.

As many of us use them while lounging on our beds, slouching on the couch, or lazing in hammocks (if the digital nomads are to be believed!).

All of which I wouldn't recommend if you want to avoid back pain.

However, even if you only use your laptop at your desk and observe all the protocols I talk about here there is still one big problem.

And that is the screen.

Because being attached to the keyboard means you will always be looking down at it.

Which will throw your neck and spine out of alignment and lead to upper back, neck, and shoulder pain in no time.

However, there is a good way around this and that is to use a laptop stand alongside a wireless keyboard and mouse.

As by doing this you can raise the laptop screen to the perfect height so you are looking straight ahead at it rather than straining your neck.

And this will relieve pressure on your body massively.

I've recently changed to this set-up and I've definitely noticed the difference, especially between my shoulder blades where I used to get pain and discomfort.

Now I use the Urbo stand and it's working fine for me, but if you want the best you could try the Roost stand which is a really popular choice.

Or you could just place your laptop on that pile of books instead if you want to save some cash.

But either way you will still need to buy yourself a wireless mouse and keyboard for this to work.

Fortunately these aren't too expensive and there's a massive selection available on Amazon to choose from.

3. Adjust The Height Of Your Office Chair

It's really important that you get your seat to be the right height if you are going to stay healthy at your desk.

However, an easy mistake to make is to just adjust the seat so it's the right height for your body.

And that seems logical right? But it's not the way to go.

Instead you need to adjust your chair so it fits the height of the desk you are using.

This way you can position your body so you can maintain a healthy posture while working on that particular desk.

And if that means you have to raise the height of the chair so much that you can't place your feet flat on the ground, then you will need to use a foot stool to maintain your posture.

This will help to take the pressure off your body as you sit and avoid any nagging back pain.

However, just adjusting the height of your chair isn't enough.

As you also need a chair that does more to relieve the pressure of sitting, which is where using an ergonomic office chair comes in.

4. Use An Ergonomic Office Chair

Many office chairs are designed as a one size fits all solution and are lacking the features you need to ward off back pain at the computer.

In fact, using a crappy office chair could even be what's causing it!

This is because they offer zero lumbar support and can't be adjusted to suit your needs.​

And they can force you into an unhealthy posture which puts your body under constant strain.

But using a fully adjustable ergonomic chair on the other hand will work wonders for your back.

As these chairs can be adjusted to fit you like a glove and match up perfectly to your computer desk.

And they come with the following benefits for your back:

  • You can adjust the height to get yourself at the ideal level for your desk.
  • They also have adjustable armrests which you can raise or lower to keep your arms at the right angle and keep your shoulders relaxed.
  • They have great lumbar support which helps you to keep a slight arch in your lower back as you sit.
  • The tilt function means you can rock back and forth slightly as you sit, which is great for relieving pressure and keeping your core and abdominal muscles active.
  • They have an increased seat depth which allows your lower back to rest against the back of the chair.
  • When sitting on one of these chairs your weight and pressure gets distributed evenly so your back won't be under undue strain.

All of which will make you feel much better while sat at your desk and makes an ergonomic office chair a great investment for your long-term health.

Now there are some great models on the market and one I'd highly recommend is the Ergohuman High Back Swivel Chair.

However, if you're on a budget and want to save some money you could check out the Space Seating Professional Airgrid Chair instead.

5. Make Sure Your Desk Isn't Too Low

Make sure your desk is the right height whether using a sitting or standing desk.

Adjusting your chair so it's the perfect height for your desk is great in every circumstance except one.

And that is if your desk is too low.

Because if your desk is too low you'll have to lower your chair too much to get your legs under it.

Which will throw your posture off as your knees will be above your hips (and your thighs will probably be squeezed up uncomfortably against the desk).

So, if you find this is the case you either need to get a taller desk or increase the height of your current one.

You can do this by placing things underneath the corners such as blocks, wood or something similar until it reaches the right height.

And a really cool site to use to make sure you're getting your measurements right is Ergotron's Workspace Planner.

As by entering your height it will give you the optimal heights and distances for both your sitting and standing desk set-ups.

However it's not just the height of the desk you need to watch out for, you also need to be aware of the following:

  • Don't store things or have drawers under your desk as this will restrict both your space, comfort, and movement.
  • Place the things you use most regularly closest to you on the desk to avoid overreaching and straining.
  • Make sure your keyboard and mouse are in the optimal position.

Which brings me on nicely to...

6. The Position Of Your Keyboard & Mouse

Keep that 'B' in the centre!

Placing your keyboard and mouse in the right position will help to keep your shoulders and arms relaxed as you work.

And it will also help your body to stay balanced, well aligned, and free of tension.

So make sure you:

  • Keep your keyboard and mouse on the same surface level and close enough to you so your elbows stay close to your body when you are using them.
  • So they should be on your desk at the same height as your elbows when your shoulders are relaxed (this should be simple if you've adjusted your chair correctly).
  • Make sure the letters on the keyboard are centered in front of you (so that the 'B' key is dead centre) and place the mouse to one side of it close by.

Using a wireless mouse and keyboard may make this easier for you to achieve.

Just make sure you can keep your wrists, arms, and elbows in the right positions as you use them both.

Rounding Up

So I hope these 6 tips have given you an idea of how to set your desk up to avoid back pain in the office.

As each one will help to relieve the pressure and strain on your body.

And when combined with things like taking microbreaks, keeping your core muscles strong, and having a stretch every now and again, it can really take the pain out of sitting. 

So set your desk up the right way and see if it makes a difference for you too.

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Daniel

I'm a psychology graduate and a veteran of 5 spinal surgeries. I want to help people learn how to fight back against persistent back pain just like I have.

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