Approximately half of British workers are working from home – an increase of 37% from before 2020. However, very few people know how to correctly set up the work environment at home, leading to back, neck and other postural problems.
Office setup and back pain
Sitting badly in front of a computer for hours on end is storing up trouble. The body can tolerate being in one position for only a short period of time before you feel the need to adjust.
Workstation factors that can affect your back include:
- Seating posture
- Computer screen position
- Chair height
- Keyboard position
- Mouse position
- Desk equipment layout
Setting up the work environment – the right way
If you work in an office or at home and use a computer, you can avoid injury by sitting in the right position and arranging your desk correctly;
- Focus on aligning your head and neck right above your shoulders; avoid straining forward.
- Move your mouse close. Ideally, it should be placed right next to your keyboard so you don’t overreach or twist your shoulder, arm, or wrist when clicking.
- Be choosy with your chair – pick one that allows your lower back to rest against a lumbar support. Then tilt the back of the chair so it’s very slightly reclined.
- Sit within reach. Your torso should be about an arm’s length away from the monitor, which should be 2 to 3 inches above eye level.
- Plant your feet, keeping them flat on the floor and shoulder-width apart to quiet tension in your knees and ankles
- Position your knees at 90 degrees, directly over your ankles; this will keep your spine comfortably upright.
- Don’t cross your legs. Sitting cross-legged makes it difficult to keep your spine straight and shoulders squared, and you risk overstretching the muscles around the pelvis, upping your risk of varicose veins by interrupting blood flow. So uncross and relax.
- Phone cradling – pinning the phone between your shoulder and ear while you multitask – is an instinctive move but is very harmful to your neck. Use earphones, a headset or speakerphone for any conversation that lasts more than five minutes.
Choosing the correct chair
By law, workstation chairs must be stable. The standard office chair has five legs in a star shape.
The seat height must be adjustable, and the backrest must be adjustable in height and tilt. Ideally, the backrest should move independently of the seat to allow a comfortable position.
When you’re sitting, your thighs should be at right angles to your body or sloping slightly down.
Make sure your chair is properly adjusted: your feet should be firmly on the floor, but if it’s more comfortable, use a footrest. The basic rule is to plant your feet on the floor and support your back.
Workstation health & safety
It is important to mention the following points about safety at the workstation:
- Avoid sitting twisted. This may sound obvious, but it can be so easy to end up twisting to work on the computer, which you then forget about until the pain starts.
- Cables must be tidied away and not a trip hazard, or where they can be caught in your feet.
- Water, kettles especially, must be away from electrical equipment. Even finding a safe place to put a coffee mug is so important.
- Avoid clutter under the desk. Your knees must be free to move.
- Avoid clutter on the desk too! Find ample space for the keyboard and mouse so you don’t cramp your shoulders and arms.
- Work in sufficient light yet avoid bright lights shining on the screen or monitor.
- Give yourself adequate space to set up a workstation.
- Ensure your workspace is warm and well ventilated.
- Avoid repetitive twisting or bending, like to a cupboard or filing cabinet.
You can find more in-depth articles about sitting and the workstation, courtesy of Alan Glasier, here:
How Sitting Affects Disc Pressure
How to Sit with a Healthy Posture
How to Sit when Using a Laptop
A proper evaluation of how you are working is such a sensible investment, and is something we can offer you at the Back Care Clinic. In many ways this is best done at home in a site visit to see how you are working. Alternatively, it is possible to learn from some pictures or videos initially;
1. Ask someone to take pictures or even better short video of you working. Don’t cheat! Sit and slouch as you normally do, to assess your common work habits and posture.
2. Take pictures of you chair and note the model number (usually under the chair)
3. Measure your desk height.
4. Send the pictures or videos to us so we can see any clear adjustments required.
I must say I always find several things needing to be adjusted and reorganised and it is something I love doing; inspiring clients to have a happy, relaxed, supportive environment is so fulfilling. You will enjoy working far more, with less chance of straining your back and neck along with your knees, elbows, pelvis and hips especially.
Visit a Backstore
- Visit a back store like www.backinaction.co.uk or www.posturite.co.uk and book a workstation assessment to evaluate if your desk and chair are set up optimally, and learn what needs improving.
- Learn about active seating and floating tilt chairs
- Experience a proper sit-stand desk.