March 23, 2020 | Lauren Tortorici, DC
Whether you work at an office or regularly spend time working on a computer at home, it’s important to make sure your workstation is set up properly. One of the most common complaints we hear from patients with back or neck pain is that their pain worsens when they’re sitting at their desks. Properly setting up your workstation is one of the simplest things you can do to improve back pain when sitting at your desk.
You Need Proper Lumbar Support
If you want to improve back pain when sitting at your desk, you should start by taking a look at your chair’s lumbar support. When the curve of the low back is not properly supported, it takes a lot of energy and work to sit upright for an extended period of time. The result is that we tend to slouch forward, which affects our posture throughout the rest of the spine. Ideally, you want a desk chair that has an adjustable lumbar support so you can adjust it to fit your body properly. You want to adjust the curve of the lumbar support so that when you sit back in your chair, the curve of your low back is fully supported, and sitting upright is comfortable. If your chair does not have this feature, then using a lumbar roll or a small pillow can offer the support you need.
Adjust Your Chair Height
It is important to position your chair and/or desk so that your elbows, hips, and knees are all bent at a 90 degree angle. You want your feet to rest flat on the floor in front of you. If your chair is too high for you to do this, then getting a footrest is important so that your feet can rest comfortably without you needing to lean to one side or cross your legs. If trying to sit with your feet flat on the floor is uncomfortable for you, this is a sign that your chair height is not adjusted properly for your body.
Optimize Your Computer Setup
Once you have your chair set up properly, it’s time to address your computer. If you want to improve back pain when sitting at your desk, it’s important to make sure your computer is set up to allow you to work without compromising your posture. Your computer monitor should be close enough that you can see clearly when sitting upright in your chair. You shouldn’t need to lean forward or strain your eyes. The monitor height should be adjusted so that the top line of text on the screen is 15 degrees below eye level. When you sit with your hands on the keyboard and mouse, your shoulders should be fully relaxed and your elbows should be bent at a 90 degree angle. It’s much easier to achieve this set up when you have a desktop computer rather than a laptop because you can adjust the monitor, keyboard, and mouse separately. If you are working with a laptop, the best option is to get a laptop stand and a separate keyboard and mouse.
Take Regular Breaks to Stretch and Move
Take a break at least every hour to stretch and move. If you can, stand up and stretch your arms overhead. Practice supported back extensions by standing up, placing your hands on the backs of your hips, and gently pressing your hips forward. Move your head in a plus sign pattern by looking up and down, and then side to side. Roll your shoulders backward and forward. Take a short walk when possible, even if it’s just to grab some water or use the restroom. Avoiding prolonged periods of sitting is vital to improving back pain when sitting at your desk.
Use a Standing Desk If Possible
Standing desks are becoming more and more common in the workplace as research continues to show that prolonged sitting is detrimental to our health. Prolonged sitting overloads the spinal ligaments, muscles, and discs, which sets the stage for injury and back pain. Although standing desks are often beneficial for individuals with back pain, in many cases prolonged standing can aggravate back pain as well. If you are experiencing back discomfort when standing at your desk, consider using a footrest to help alleviate muscle fatigue and back pain. Rest one foot at a time on the footrest, and make sure you are alternating your feet regularly. A recent study shows that using a footrest height of 10% of the body height is recommended.
If you have questions regarding your specific workstation setup, please don’t hesitate to contact our office. We are happy to help in any way we can.
- Son JI, et al. Effects of footrest heights on muscle fatigue, kinematics, and kinetics during prolonged standing work. J Back Musculoskelet Rehabil. 2017.