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Work Smart at your Desk


Work smart at your desk

Many people are now required to spend longer and longer periods at their desks, often without the help of an Occupational Health advisor to make sure it is set up in the best possible way to suit each person.  While nothing beats having someone come and look at you at your workstation and advising you on-site, here are a few self-help tips that may alleviate some of the problems associated with desk work.

  1. Chair height: your chair should be adjusted so that you are able to sit with your hips and knees bent to 90o.  You should also be able to rest your hands and forearms on the desk surface with your elbows bent 90O without hitching your shoulders or slouching through your back.  If you need to raise your chair to achieve this, you may need to use a footstool (or something like a stack of files!) to maintain the angle of your hips and knees.

  2. Chair support: it is useful if your chair has a good lumbar support, but no support is better than one that is in the wrong place for your back.  If there is no support, just use a rolled-up hand towel or similar, and place it in the arch of your lower back. 

  3. Desk Height: As mentioned before, your desk should be at a height that allows you to sit in your chair with a good upright posture, bend your elbows to 90o and that brings your arms to the right place to rest on the desk surface.  If your desk is too low it really does have to be replaced – too high, and you can adapt your chair to suit and use a footstool, but too low and there just isn’t much you can do about it!

  4. Computer setup: obviously, this is assuming you are working at a computer when you are sat at your desk, but in this day and age I’m thinking that’s a fairly safe bet!  First, there’s your keyboard.  When you adopt the posture I mentioned when talking about chair height and desk height, the keyboard should be placed so that it falls naturally under your hands when you place your arms on the desk.  You shouldn’t be reaching over anything to get to it, and you also must have it placed directly in front of you so that you are sitting square at your desk.  Your mouse should be placed as close as possible next to the keyboard, again so that you are not having to reach for it.  Finally, the computer monitor should be placed directly in front of you at a height which allows you to look straight ahead at it when you are in your “good” posture.  This is where laptops fail, as you simply can’t get the screen at the right height when it is attached to the keyboard.  You may need to improvise again with books or box files to get the monitor high enough, but failing to do so will lead to neck problems.

  5. Reminders: you can have the best workstation setup in the world, but if you are still slumped in front of the screen it isn’t going to do you any good at all.  In fact, if the monitor has been raising to eye-level when you are sitting up straight, and then you slump down in your chair, you’re going to develop a crick in your neck from trying to look up to it! So try and find something you regularly do, such as reaching for the mouse or changing programs, and every time you do that action you correct your posture.  Initially, you will find that you almost immediately fall out of it, but with time and practice it will become the way you naturally sit at your desk.

It is still important to remember that the human body is not designed to remain in one position or performing one task for more than about 20 minutes, so you must still try and get up to take regular breaks and move around during the day.  There are also all sorts of options out there, such as standing desks, kneeling chairs and (in my case) the use of a gym ball instead of a chair, but as a basic set of rules these 5 points are a good place to start!

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