A question I’ve been asked for many years and a question that has increased more and more since coronavirus! A lot of jobs require you to sit at your desk all day, even more so since working from home has been promoted. And let’s not forget students who are also required to sit for long periods of time. We are well aware that prolonged sitting and being sedentary can have an adverse effect on our health.

However, it isn’t always possible to stay active whilst at work therefore we must optimize the way we work to avoid ergonomic related pains. You could certainly argue that there is no ‘best posture’ to sit in for 12 hours a day as we weren’t designed to do that, rather better postures or position to be in.

  • As a physio, it’s easy for me to say be more active at work, as I spend most of my day moving around, assessing patients and demonstrating exercises. However, I appreciate in reality, most people are unable to remain active at work therefore some top tips to optimise your health whilst at work.

Support from your chair – a correctly adjusted chair should provide support for your lower back. You should be able to rest your lower back into the chair and not feel that you need to hold yourself up or lean forward.

Adjustable chair – a chair that can be adjusted in various ways can be helpful. A key adjustment is ensuring the height of the chair is appropriate. Aim to have your forearms level with the keyboard to avoid excessive wrist flexion or extension – this can reduce the risk of repetitive strain injuries. With the lower limbs, aim for your knees to be inline or slightly lower than your hips.

Foot position – place your feet flat on the floor or use a footrest if needed. Avoid letting the legs hang from the chair. Try to avoid crossing your legs or ‘sitting’ on your legs.

Screen location – ensure your screen is directly in front of you and approximately arm's length away from you. The top of the screen should be roughly eye level. We want to avoid sustained looking up or down.

Keyboard and mouse – your keyboard should be directly in front of you with a gap of about 6 inches from the edge of the desk. This will allow you some space to rest your forearms. Your mouse should also be close by to avoid excessive reaching. Using a wrist rest for both the keyboard and mouse is a great way to offload some of the upper limb muscles and can also help avoid repetitive strain type injuries from sustained wrist extension.

Laptops – Small, convenient and easy to transport but not great for prolonged use. Ideally, a desktop computer is much better for prolonged us however this comes at a price and takes up space. To optimize your laptop set up, use a laptop stand to bring the screen to eyes level (as mentioned above). Try to avoid using it on your lap! If able, use an external mouse and keyboard, this will allow for better screen set up and a more relaxed posture in your upper body.

Screen glare – avoid reflections and glare as much as possible. Not only will this help your eyes, but it will also stop you from leaning forward to see the screen better.

Phone – have your phone close by to avoid having to twist or lean too much when on a call. Avoid the dreaded phone to shoulder hold! If you use the phone a lot, it could be worth investing in a headset.

Take regular breaks – set timers or reminders to get up and move. Go to the printer, go get some water, do some stretching, anything but sitting…oh and don’t get up and stare down at your mobile phone either! Micro-breaks are a great way to give our body both some physical and mental rest. Take a break before you ache – similar to the above tip but written again to encourage movement. Don’t wait until your neck starts to ache before you move, we want to be proactive in managing our conditions and aches/pains. Regular movement and mobility is helpful regardless of whether you have pain or not.

Exercise, exercise, exercise – The WHO recommended we do 150 minutes of exercise a week, and now more than ever I think we need to promote this given the time we spend in front of a computer and in the car travelling. Now I am fully aware that some of this advice comes at a cost, and I know a good computer chair doesn’t come cheap. However, my personal opinion is that you are investing in your health! You buy healthy foods, you sign up to the gym for a year, and you invest in a good pillow, why because you are trying to optimize your health and wellbeing. Therefore why wouldn’t you invest in something that you use >40 hours a week!