Top Tips For Avoiding Back Pain At Work
BA (Hons), MSc.
Associate Member CIEHF
Back pain at work is a common problem but you can minimise your risk by adopting the best position for sitting at your computer. Read on for advice on how to sit at your desk properly to easily improve your posture and comfort.
Work-related musculoskeletal disorder cases (new or longstanding) 2016/17
Source: Estimates based on self-reports from
the Labour Force Survey, people who worked
in the last 12 months
How to sit at your desk
1. Properly support your back
You can reduce your risk of developing back pain at work by adjusting your chair so your lower back is properly supported.
The chair should be supportive and follow the curve of your spine. If your chair does not adequately support your lower back curve, consider using a lumbar support or roll. This attaches to the chair to fit the curve in your lower back. The bottom of the lumbar roll should be in line with the top of your pelvis.
Tip – A small towel rolled up can make effective lumbar support.
2. Adjust your chair
A poorly adjusted chair will lead to back pain at work. Choose a chair that is easily adjustable so you can change the height, back position and tilt.
Adjust the chair height so you can use the keyboard with your elbows at 90 degrees and your wrists and forearms straight and parallel to the floor. This can help prevent repetitive strain injuries.
You will know it’s at the correct height when:
- Your knees are in line with or slightly lower than your hips.
- Your feet are flat on the floor. Use a footrest if necessary.
Tip – Don’t cross legs or ankles, and resist tucking your feet under your chair.
3. Sit tight
Move your chair forwards and your hips as far back into the chair as they can go. The contact between your back and the back of your chair should be maintained so that the chair keeps on supporting your spine. This allows your muscles to relax and help avoid back pain at work.
4. Sit close
Sitting close to your desk also helps keep with your mouse and keyboard in easy reach. If your chair’s armrests prevent you from moving your chair close to the desk, consider removing them.
Position and use the mouse as close to you as possible. This helps you avoid repeatedly stretching or twisting to reach things.
Also keep other frequently used objects, such as your telephone or stapler, within easy reach.
Tip – A mouse mat with a wrist pad may help keep your wrist straight and avoid awkward bending.
5. Place your screen at eye level
To avoid straining your neck and eyes, with your screen directly in front of you, about an arm’s length away. The top of the monitor should be around 2 to 3 inches above your eye level. If you wear bifocals, it may be more comfortable to lower your monitor slightly.
Tip – If the screen is too low, you could consider a monitor stand to achieve a better position and avoid bending your neck.
6. Place your keyboard at the right height
People often position their keyboard directly on their desk, so it’s just below chest level. Typing at that height for a long time limits circulation and stresses the joints and nerves in your arms, shoulders, and wrists which can cause numbness and pain in those areas and in your back. It can even lead to long-term problems like carpal tunnel syndrome. When positioned correctly, your keyboard should be slightly below your elbows.
Tip – Consider using a keyboard tray that’s placed beneath your desktop.
7. Take regular breaks
Even if you have a great sitting posture, sitting in that position for long periods is not good. Remember to stand up and stretch every 15 minutes, and to take an hourly walk around the office every hour, to combat stress and strain on your body.
It is critical that you learn how to sit at your desk properly. To do this you must make sure your chair is suitably adjusted to suit your frame. If your chair isn’t adjustable, change it.
Remember, however good your posture is, sitting in one position for long periods will still lead to back problems so remember to keep on moving.
For more guidance on the correct use of DSE, read the HSE guidelines Working with display screen equipment.