Back pain is the leading cause of long-term sick leave in the UK. According to Nuffield Health, around 3 million people are off work each year due to back pain, with a further 3 million complaining of musculoskeletal pain within the workplace. Their survey found that two-thirds of workers with back pain felt their company supplied insufficient advice on posture at the desk or failed to carry out desk assessments.
Backpain caused or exacerbated by a desk job is more common in those who live a sedentary lifestyle. This puts the inactive younger workers in an office at just as much risk as their older coworkers. If you’re committed to improving your posture and avoiding the misery of back problems, in addition to following the good desk posture guide below, the best approach to banishing back pain is to up your activity levels. Start with a half-hour walk each lunchtime. This will top up your exercise by over two hours each week, and importantly, it will get you away from the desk.
Employees should be aware of the Display Screen Equipment Regulations. In relation to posture at the desk, these regulations stipulate that an employer must assess the employees’ current working setup and provide a suitable workstation and environment. In practical terms, this means that as an employee, you should have a chair that encourages good desk posture and reduces your risk of back pain. If you feel your chair and desk at work are contributing to back problems, your company must address this.
Suffering from musculoskeletal pain is debilitating and can significantly impact the quality of your work and home life. The good news is, alongside a great quality ergonomic chair, there are some straightforward tips you can follow to keep the best posture for sitting at a desk all day. Taking the time to complete these steps will ensure you hop, skip and jump your way into the weekend rather than hobbling into it with a heat pack and a painkiller.
Take charge of your chair
We’d all like to think that we know how to sit, but many workers don’t know how to properly adjust their chairs to create the best seating position. Learning how to make these adjustments, unlock your backrest, and manipulate the proper tension level can work wonders for your posture.
There are a few simple adjustments you can make to your desk chair and seating position to improve your posture right now:
- Adjust the height of your chair – make sure that your knees are about level with your hips and that your feet sit flat on the floor or on a footrest.
- Adjust your armrests so that your arms can sit comfortably at a 90-degree angle, with your shoulders relaxed.
- Ensure you have a two or three-finger width gap between the front edge of your chair and the backs of your knees. This position reduces strain on the knee joints and improves blood flow to your extremities.
- Add lumbar or thoracic support to your chair. Although people sometimes use cushions or rolled up towels to provide this support, these materials can slip and move. It is well worth investing in a good quality chair support, such as one of the Avansas back supports, which can be firmly secured in place. The lumbar section of your spine curves inward, and your chair or its support must follow this curve.
- Ensure your entire back makes contact with the back of the chair. Inflatable back supports can offer excellent support for those with a more pronounced spine curvature.
If you’re in the position to buy a new desk chair, opt for an ergonomic design. An ergonomic chair has been engineered to reduce postural stress on the neck, shoulders, spine and hips. Although more expensive than standard office chairs, by improving your posture, you not only reduce your risk of musculoskeletal discomfort, but you may also find other benefits, such as increased productivity thanks to feeling more comfortable.
Tilt your way to good desk posture
Despite years of being told to sit up straight in our chairs by teachers and parents, there’s a growing body of evidence that this may not be the best position for those who work full days at a desk. The traditional 90 degree sitting angle puts pressure on the lower back and neck whenever you move forward to reach for items on your desk or focus on your screen.
A slouch position, facilitated by an ergonomic chair with a floating seat, can be achieved by tilting the chair back just ten to twenty degrees. This reduces compression of the lower back and offers better support to the torso. It also allows the legs to be readily moved, encouraging improved circulation.
Workers who adopt this gentle “slouch” position find they can sit at their desks comfortably for more extended periods, making them more productive at work.
Pay attention to your feet
As you’ve read, feet flat on the floor or on a footrest is a good postural position for sitting at a desk. To assume this position, you need to ensure there’s no clutter underneath your desk and that your wastepaper bin is positioned to the side. If your leg length requires a footrest, choose a high-quality model that won’t slip around. Avansas stocks tilted footrests with additional features such as massage bumps and textured surfaces for grip.
Though it may be a habit for you, don’t sit with your legs or ankles crossed. This alters your posture and restricts blood flow.
Adjust your desk
Many workers underestimate the importance of the height of your desk. Studies in America suggest that the standard desk height is too high for a staggering 95% of the population. Once you’re seated in a properly adjusted chair, your desk should be at a height that allows your arms (bent at that 90-degree angle) to rest comfortably on the desk. Many desks do not allow for this, and therefore making adjustments is vital to improving good posture at your desk.
Adjustable desks are becoming more popular, especially for taller and shorter individuals. If buying a brand-new adjustable desk isn’t within budget, you can raise the height of a desk with individual blocks on each leg, or a simpler alternative is to drop the height of your chair a little. If your desk is too high, add in a footrest and raise the chair armrests to raise your chair height and remain in the correct posture.
Position your screen and keyboard
Bending down to look at a screen at work is a recipe for neck, shoulder and back pain. Use equipment such as an Avansas laptop riser to position your screen so that it is at eye level. You should have your screen at around an arm’s length away from you.
Naturally, you need your keyboard (and mouse) closer. Place your keyboard directly in front of you, with a gap of ten to fifteen cm at the front of the desk to allow your wrists to rest. If your desk accommodates it, place your keyboard beneath your main desk – closer to lap level. This lower position is helpful because it relaxes the shoulders. Tension in the shoulders and neck from typing not only knocks your posture off-balance but can also contribute to unpleasant, regular tension headaches.
Do not place the keyboard any further back on your desk, as this will encourage you to lean forward. Whenever you lean forward at your desk, you lose your chair’s lumbar and thoracic support. You should keep this fact in mind when you’re positioning your telephone, printer, and stationery on your desk. Anything that you use regularly should be in easy reach. If you can’t position your telephone closer to the front of the desk, consider using a headset to allow you to maintain the correct sitting posture.
If you can’t position your keyboard on a lower desk shelf, many workers find a wrist support helps reduce hand, arm and shoulder strain. Consider using keyboard shortcuts to minimise mouse usage, which can lead to postural imbalance and strain on one side of the body.
It’s recommended that you only sit looking at a screen in twenty-minute increments. After twenty minutes of work, get up and move around for a short period to reset your posture and allow the muscles in the neck and back to relax. Some gentle stretching will also help, and taking a little walk will get the blood flowing, which will improve your concentration when you return to work.
If poor posture at your desk has led to long-term musculoskeletal issues, unfortunately, these tips alone are unlikely to reverse the damage. You may need to invest in an appropriate therapy such as massage or physiotherapy to help correct imbalances and strengthen your muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints.
Understanding that back pain is the leading cause of long-term absence from work should serve as an excellent motivation for a business to step up its ergonomic support for the workforce. As you’ve seen, brand new equipment like chairs and desks aren’t always necessary. Instead, gadgets that help workers adjust their workstations to suit their height can be incredibly effective. Avansas offers a range of chair supports, footrests, wrist rests and equipment that can make the desktop more user friendly. Take the first steps to good desk posture today!