We all spend a lot of time at our desks, and while exercise can mitigate some of the effects, a lot of us simply don’t have our workspace set up correctly.

If you are ending the workday with pain and stiffness in your neck and shoulders, or with a headache, then it likely means that you have some ergonomic issues with your workspace that should be addressed. A poor desk set up can also cause carpal tunnel syndrome and pinched nerves in your neck.

In addition to getting up and walking around every so often, you should set up your workstation so as to encourage good posture and keep your joints well aligned.

How Should Your Desk be Set Up?

Here are some guidelines for setting up your desk:

  1. Knees should be about level with hips. If you have a higher desk, a footrest is a good idea for better ergonomics. Your feet should never dangle.
  2. Your keyboard should be at a height that allows your wrists to be straight and your hands at or below the level of your elbows. For some people, a keyboard tray is the best way to achieve this.
  3. Your monitor should be about an arm’s length away.
  4. Your monitor should be at a height such that the top of the screen is at about eye level and directly behind the keyboard. If you wear bifocals, lower the monitor slightly.
  5. Make sure there is enough clearance under your desk for your knees, thighs, and feet. If you are tall you may need to raise your desk.
  6. If your desk has a hard edge, pad it.
  7. Avoid storing anything under your desk (unless you have a lot of under-desk space).
  8. Have your brightest light source to the side of your monitor.
  9. Position anything you reach for frequently close to your body.
  10. Avoid using the keyboard “kickstand.” It used to be common wisdom that a keyboard was best tilted slightly towards you, but we now know that slightly away is better.
  11. Keep your mouse and keyboard level if possible.
  12. If you use a laptop, then use an external keyboard and monitor when at your desk. Laptops are generally pretty terrible for ergonomics. A laptop stand can also help, but only with an external keyboard.
  13. Choose a chair that gives a little space between the edge of the chair and your knees (if possible).
  14. Use a reading stand for any books. These also work well for e-readers and tablets.
  15. If you talk on the phone regularly, use a headset. Never cradle a phone between your neck and shoulder.

More Tips for A Pain-Free Workspace

Here are some more tips for keeping yourself pain-free.

  1. If you are a full-time glasses wearer and can afford it, get a pair of specific computer use glasses. While sitting in your natural position, have a coworker measure the distance between your eyes and your screen. Have your eye doctor create a prescription that gives you the best vision at that distance. This reduces eye strain and also subtly encourages you to sit in a good position and not lean or hunch.
  2. Stand up and walk around about every hour. Or stretch. If you are doing any activity which doesn’t require typing, such as taking a conference call or meeting with somebody, consider standing. Fidgeting helps too.
  3. Every twenty minutes or so, focus your eyes on something further away to reduce eye strain.
  4. Stay hydrated. First of all, water is good for your joints. Second of all, getting up to get more water will make sure you take that stretch break. Don’t set limits, but do drink whenever you are thirsty.
  5. Change up your mouse hand periodically so you aren’t putting extra stress on just your dominant wrist.

Good posture and ergonomics will help keep you from developing neck and shoulder pain which can interfere with your ability to exercise (and create a vicious cycle where pain keeps you from exercising and not exercising worsens your pain). It can also prevent headaches, pinched nerves, and carpal tunnel. Our ebook, 7 Ways to Ease Neck and Shoulder Pain has even more useful information. For more personalized tips on improving your desk set up, contact Peak Physiotherapy and Performance to set up a free phone consultation.

About the Author

Dr. Andrew Junak is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and Board-Certified Orthopedic Specialist. Dr. Junak received his Doctorate of Physical Therapy from Walsh University and completed his Orthopedic Specialist training at the Cleveland Clinic. He is the owner of Peak Physiotherapy and Performance, a physical therapy clinic in Canal Winchester, Ohio. He serves the local communities of Lancaster, Grove City, Blacklick, Pickerington, and Columbus. Dr. Junak is passionate about helping people solve their problems in order to get them back to doing the things they love.

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