I most often hear people blame their chair when they’re uncomfortable at their computer workstation, but in reality, a common cause for their actual discomfort, is the incorrect placement of their monitor, particularly when the monitor is placed too far.
A monitor position that is too far from the user causes people to lean forwards away from the backrest to lean in towards the monitor.
This causes prolonged slouching and poking chin postures, creating pressure on joints in the upper neck causing headaches, and over activation of the upper trapezius muscles leading to neck pain as well as high compression on the lumbar spinal discs leading to back pain.
So, how do we fix this? Buy a new chair? Of course not. If you’re sitting badly, always check that when leaning backwards against your chair, if you place your arms in front of you like Frankenstein, your fingers touch the screen. If they don’t, bring your screen closer.
At the same time, ensure that your forearms are supported either on your desk, or on your armrests. This will differ depending on other factors in your setup.
Please join the conversation, ask questions, make comments or share with friends and colleagues if you found this helpful.
Working from home has become the new normal and even when life returns to the “old normal” at some point, many people will still continue to work from home, if not full time, then certainly for a portion of a working week.
This has meant that kitchen tables amongst other things have become the new working desk with a definite uptick in neck and back pain and headaches.
The point of this post is to explain how to sit comfortably at the kitchen table or other desk while working at your laptop, especially without accessories, since most people don’t have them.
There are 4 main elements of your sitting posture that you need to be aware of to reduce any body discomfort especially neck and back pain as well as headaches:
Keep your head in a neutral position i.e. looking straight ahead at your screen. This may mean dropping your chair so that your head is at the same height as the laptop screen or choosing a lower chair.
Looking down for too long will give you neck pain as well as a stiffer neck which long term could lead to pain in the arms.
Looking up at a screen will quickly give you both neck pain and headaches.
Keep your elbows at an open angle above 90 degrees.
If your elbows have an angle less then 90 degrees and close to your body, it causes your upper trapezius muscles to contract and after time you will end up with neck pain.
Make sure that your screen is arms’ length away when sitting back in your chair and not further, unless your spectacles require it.
With your screen too far away, when you concentrate you will find yourself leaning forwards to look at your screen resulting in slouching and poking chin postures.
Result: back pain, neck pain and headaches.
Don’t let your legs hang even slightly off the ground.
If your legs are hanging even slightly, you will either lean forwards and slouch to get your feet to touch the floor or leave them hanging uncomfortably. Both end in back pain.
Find a firm box or ream of paper to put your feet on. Anything that caves in will strain your body and reduce your concentration.
Join the conversation, Questions? Comments?Useful? Please share with someone who you think this could help.
If you’ve been following my posts, you’re starting to realise that I keep harping on about how common neck pain is among office workers. During my pre-corporate practice days, lower back pain and knee injuries were the most common ailments I treated. Once I moved into the corporate environment though, I was totally amazed at the high incidence of neck pain I encountered.
Who of you find yourself constantly referring to papers, writing on documents, capturing data from sheets and then working with the information on your computer as part of your job? I find this quite common among book keepers, data capturers, etc.
How does working between papers and a computer increase your risk of developing neck pain? There are a number of factors to consider in these scenarios.
When people work with papers/documents, I find few people actually have a proper document holder to hold the paper/document at eye level. Instead, I find that people are placing the papers/documents on their desk instead, causes people to bend their neck for long periods of time during the day, increasing the risk of developing neck pain. The solution is to use a document holder which will allow you to keep the papers/documents that you are working with at eye level if there is no need to write on them. If there is no money in the office for a document holder, rest the paper/document against the computer screen and use a stapler to keep it there. It works just as well and is free.
If there is a need to write on documents, I find that people often tend to place them flat on their desks, forcing a bent neck posture which increases the risk of developing neck pain. If you do need to write on paper/documents while working on your computer at the same time, grab an arch-lever folder that will slant upwards like the old school desks when we were in primary school. This will allow you to keep a more upright posture while you lean on the folder and make notes on your paper/document. You can then flip it back onto your chest when you need to type, and then flip it back down over the keyboard when you need to write again. It’s a slightly irritating thing, especially when you’re not used to it, but, before throwing out the idea, weigh up the pros and cons of getting used to working like that versus experiencing frequent bouts of neck pain.
I also find that when people are working with documents on their desk, they may push their computer screens back and out of the way or move their computer away to one side to allow them space to work on their desks. Pushing your computer far away from you and placing documents on the table between yourself and your computer and keyboard will create a poking chin posture, which is a high risk posture for developing neck pain (read my post on spinal posture and pain). Placing your computer screen to one side is another high risk posture for developing neck pain. Both postures create compressive forces on neck joints resulting in an increased risk of developing neck pain. The solution here is the same for the scenario above: use an archer-lever folder as well as bringing the computer screen back to a position straight in front of yourself and to the correct distance from yourself when you work (read my post on how to to correct the distance of your computer screen to reduce neck pain).
Neck and lower back pain are such common complaints that we all know someone (if it’s not ourselves) who has experienced at least one of these complaints. There are many causes for neck or lower back pain. These can include different types of injuries, disease processes, genetic predispositions, and most importantly and commonly of all, our posture. Our posture at work and our posture at home and at play.
Our work posture is getting more and more attention, especially since the advances in technology have relegated most of us to work behind a computer for long hours each day. There are a host of things to consider in our work environment that can negatively affect our posture and cause our neck or lower back pain.
Part of my job is going around performing office ergonomics for people. One of the most common things I hear is people blaming their chair for their neck or lower back pain. Most often, however, this is not correct and the real culprit is the monitor and where it has been positioned on the desk. Luckily, this is a much cheaper and easier solution to the problem.
Your poor monitor position (read my post on 4 poor monitor positions that cause neck pain) is definitely one of the first places to look if you suffer from neck or lower back pain and you think your work posture is to blame. There are a number of factors to consider in relation to your monitor position, but one very important and neglected element is the correct monitor distance that your monitor is positioned away from you while you work.
If your monitor is positioned too far away from you, you will find yourself leaning forwards in order to see your screen better, creating all sorts of problems in your spine (especially in your neck and lower back) and over activating your shoulder muscles, all leading you down the path of aches and pains.
So what is the correct distance that you should place your monitor?
Generally, your monitor should be positioned a lot closer to yourself than you think it should. And if you don’t believe me, ask yourself why you keep leaning forwards when you work.
How do you determine the correct distance that you should position your monitor at? I call it the “Frankenstein” test.
Firstly, position your chair as close to your desk as possible while your arms and wrists are still able to comfortably work on your keyboard and be supported with an elbow angle of 90-120 degrees. (In order to get close enough to your desk, you might need to adjust your armrests. Generally I find that most armrests get in the way of the desk when you want to come closer, so one solution is to raise your armrest so that it just slides onto the surface of your desk, allowing you to bring your chair closer. If you are unlucky enough not to have adjustable armrests and your armrests are really stopping you from bringing your chair sufficiently forwards, I recommend getting your building maintenance to remove them. Use your desk for your arm support instead).
Then, lean backwards against your backrest and replicate Frankenstein’s outstretched arms – where your fingertips end, that is where your screen should be.
Closer than you think? Give it a try and remember to keep leaning back against your chair’s backrest. Your backrest is there to help keep you in good posture while you work. A combination of those two factors (leaning back in your chair and having your monitor at the correct distance away from you) will go a long way to reduce your neck or lower back pain associated with poor working posture.
So, you’ve discovered that your monitor (laptop, tablet or desktop computer screen) is positioned too low on your desk (read my post about 4 monitor positions that cause neck pain) causing you to bend your neck for too long, straining your neck. How can you go about correcting this and ease up the strain on your neck causing your neck pain?
Well, firstly, the changes to your monitor are entirely dependent on the type of technical device that you use. There are, however, certain principles that apply to all types of devices with a monitor that you might use that you need to be aware of in order to adjust your monitor correctly and reduce your neck pain.
Using the same device’s keyboard, mouse (or touch pad) and monitor and sit in the correct position for your body can be a bit tricky. Often this scenario will place you in a really poor posture when using your device, and if this posture is prolonged, it will likely result in you developing neck pain. The way out of this it to lower your chair until your head is looking straight ahead at your screen and place the keyboard of your laptop far enough away so that your elbows are >90 degrees (open elbow angle) but not so far that when you lean back in your chair, your monitor is further than arms’ length away (which will result in forward leaning posture creating high risk of back and neck pain). Phew!!
Again, whether you are using a laptop or desktop (or tablet), your monitor needs to be at eye level, allowing the curve in your neck to remain neutral (chin level, not tucked in or poking out). Your cervical lordosis (neck curve inwards as in the xray below) is pivotal for good posture behind your device.
3. You will need some assistive device to help raise your monitor to the correct height. Some desktop monitors have a built-in system that allows you to move the monitor up or down as desired, but most do not.
Let’s consider each scenario separately:
If You Use a Desktop Monitor
If you are using a normal, old fashioned desktop monitor, this will be one of the easier scenarios to raise your screen to the correct height. Just use books (it’s cheaper), a monitor raise or an adjustable monitor arm (check our our monitor raise and adjustable monitor arm in our shop).
If You Use a Laptop
People who use laptops sit in terrible postures unless they use a laptop raise (check out our laptop raise) or books to elevate the laptop monitor to eye level and use a second keyboard and mouse. Please ensure that you purchase a proper laptop raise that elevates the monitor sufficiently and doesn’t do a half job and leave you bending forwards over your machine. Alternatively, lower your chair until your monitor is at eye level as described above.
“Alu MacBook Desk shot” by David under Licence CC BY 2.0If You Use a Tablet
Tablets are an even greater ergonomic risk than laptops. Their screens are small and their keyboards laughable. If you’re crazy enough to use it like a working computer, you will have to get a tablet stand (and more than likely need to raise even that up on books to get it to the right height) as well as a second keyboard and mouse (check out our tablet stand).
This tablet raise/stand allows you to use your tablet like a computer, however, it will still need to be raised further on books etc to get the screen to eye level. In addition, you will also need a keyboard and mouse to allow for proper ergonomics and to avoid unnecessary back and neck pain.
Are you an office worker suffering with neck pain? If so, you’re not alone. Office workers are one of the population groups most at risk of developing neck pain, with an incidence of around 55% in some countries.
If you are an unfortunate office worker suffering from neck pain, is there something that you can do yourself to reduce or prevent your neck pain rather than popping pills or going to see your OMT trained Physiotherapist?
The answer is, yes, of course there is!
The first and simplest things that you need to consider is where your monitor is positioned in relation to yourself on your desk (check our our desktop software designed to help you correct your computer ergonomics). A poor monitor position is one of the most common reasons why office workers suffer from neck pain associated with poor posture. It’s happily also one of the easiest things for to change to help improve poor posture that could be causing your neck pain.
Consider the following 4 monitor position scenarios. Do you see yourself in any of them? All of these poor monitor positions are high risk postures for creating neck pain.
In this scenario, your monitor (laptop or desktop computer screen) is positioned too low on your desk causing you to bend your neck for too long, straining your neck and resulting in neck pain. This is quite common, especially for people working on a laptop or tablet. Mobile computer devices are handy to have, but they all need assistive ergonomic devices to help you work in a safe posture. Read this post on correcting a low monitor position to help you correct this problem.
2. In this second scenario, your screen is positioned too high for you, causing you to raise your chin and compress the joints in the back of your neck causing you both neck pain and headaches. This monitor position will cause neck pain faster than any of the others and is one of the worst postures possible for a computer worker. This posture is common in people who are aware that a computer monitor often needs to be elevated, but are unaware of their own posture and what the correct position for one’s head and neck needs to be to prevent or reduce neck pain. Correct your position asap
4. In this last scenario, you are working a lot from notes/papers/files and don’t use a document holder. This means that you are looking down too often during the day and this constant bending of your neck puts you at a very high risk of developing neck pain.
Alternatively, you’re working a lot from notes and have positioned them on your desk between your keyboard and monitor causing you to push your monitor too far away and take a poking chin posture.
Both of these postures will create neck pain and possibly headaches.
Bending your neck is so common and so ordinary and most of us do it for far too long during the day, which is why at least a 30 -50% of us will experience neck pain.
Why do we bend our necks for too long increasing our risk of developing neck pain? The most common reason that we bend our necks for long periods of time during work hours is because our computer screen is positioned too low on our desk. Alternatively, if we’reworking with a tablet (or smart phone) in our hand for far too long, these devices with their small screens and integrated keyboards cause us to work in a hunched over position with our heads hanging down. Prime posture for developing neck pain (read my post on how to correct a low monitor position causing neck pain).
Another reason is because we are working with papers on our desk as well as trying to type on our keyboards, or because we can’t touch type (read my post on touch typing and neck pain). All these things cause us to bend our necks for too long.
Researchers have discovered that bending your neck for more than 70% of your working day will double your chances of developing neck pain.
In order to maintain your spinal s-curve and the curve of your neck, you need to raise the screen of your monitor/laptop/tablet to eye level using books, monitor raises, adjustable monitor arms, or a proper laptop raise/ tablet docking station (I’ll discuss this further in another post) to achieve this. If you’re lucky, some desktop monitors are adaptable, allowing you to elevate them without aids. Ensure that when they are on their highest setting and that your monitor is in fact at eye level, otherwise you still need some books etc to get it to the correct height.
All in all, make sure that your neck is in a good position while you work if you’re suffering from neck pain or want to avoid suffering from neck pain.
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Cagnie B., D. L. (2007, May). Individual and work related risk factors for neck pain among office workers: a cross sectional study. European Spine, 16(5), 679-686.
Guzman J., H. E.-J. (2008). A new conceptual model of neck pain linking onset, course and care: The bone and joint decade 2000-2010 task force on neck pain and its associated disorders. Spine, 33(4S), S14-S23.
Guzman J., H. S.-J. (2009, February). Clinical practice implications of the bone and joint decade 2000-2010 task force on neck pain and its associated disorders. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 32(2S), S227-S243.
Member of the Ergonomics Society and Health Professions Council of South Africa