Desk Ergonomics


Desk Ergonomics

Could your work station setup be the cause of your neck, back, or arm pain or injury?


Everyone’s work station is set up differently while consisting of a variety of components. However, proper positioning of the desk, monitor, document holders, keyboard, pointer devices, telephone, and chair is critical for one’s postural health.




• An ideal work station will have a desk with appropriate space for all the computer’s components.
• The desk’s surface should be deep enough to hold the monitor (see proper monitor distance below)
• A clutter free area should remain around the keyboard, pointer device, and telephone for ease of access.
• Underneath the desk should be cleared of items allowing room for legs and feet.


Computer Monitor


• The viewing distance is the space from the eyes to the front of the computer screen. This space should range between 20-40 inches (50-100 cm) or a rough distance of one arm’s length to the monitor (to finger tips) while sitting. In order to achieve proper distance, increase or decrease the amount of space between the computer monitor and user. Having a monitor that is positioned too close or too far away may cause you to move your chair and positioning of your body to accommodate appropriately.
• The viewing angle is the angle at which you are viewing the screen, either vertically or horizontally. One’s monitor should be placed directly in front of the user with the top being at the height of (or slightly below) one’s eye level. The center of the screen should be approximately 15-20 degrees below the horizontal eye level (your angle of eye gaze). As a general guideline, you should not be required to make any head and neck movements to view the screen and it should be comfortable to avoid any neck or back strains. To change the height of the monitor, consider adding or removing items beneath the monitor (monitor stand, hard drive, books, etc).


Document Holders


• A document holder should keep materials in a convenient location for the user.
• While glancing at a document when typing, the head should not have to move a significant amount and should remain comfortable.
• Place the document holder either next to the monitor at roughly the same height as the monitor, or directly beneath the computer screen.


Keyboard & Pointer Devices


• The keyboard and pointing device (mouse) should allow your wrists and arms to maintain in a comfortable position without stretching to reach these items.
• To avoid wrist discomfort and excessive strain in the wrist, use a wrist pad for the keyboard and pointer device to maintain neutral positioning of the wrist.
• Allow your wrists to move freely when typing and manipulating the pointer device, rather than keeping wrists in a locked position.
• There are multiple types of keyboards and pointer devices. It is advised to find one that is functionally comfortable for the user.




• A telephone within a work station should be conveniently located to avoid excessive reaching.
• When utilizing the telephone, consider a head set or a phone shoulder rest. Use of these items will allow one to avoid holding the phone to the ear with their hand, or pinching it between the ear and shoulder. If the phone conversation is not confidential, and you will not disturb your co-workers, use the speaker phone.


Desk Chair


• A chair should be comfortable for the back, legs, and buttocks, providing support for proper posture, particularly if a significant amount of time is spent sitting in a chair.
• Back pain and injury can result from a desk chair that does not provide adequate support to the spine. If your chair does not support the low back, consider a back support cushion, or roll up a towel to fit in the small of your back.
• Backrests should be able to move backwards and forwards allowing users of all heights to sit with their back supported. But once in a good position, all moving parts should be locked unless you are taking a break from desk work.
• The height of the seat should be adjusted so that the knees and hips are roughly at a 90 degree angle. If anything, have the hips slightly higher than the knees.
• Feet should be able to rest on the floor. If feet cannot reach the floor as a result of the seat height, a footrest can be used to support the feet and legs.
• If there are armrests on the chair, arms should be able to rest in a relaxed position. Armrests either too high or too wide will cause shoulder discomfort which could lead to neck and/or back pain. The arm rests should keep your elbows at 90 degrees, and the wrists should be in a comfortable and neutral position. Many people elect to slide their chair into their desk and use the front part of their desk as the arm rest. Just be sure your elbows are at 90 degrees and that you are not bearing weight on your forearms on the edge of the desk.


Avoid Prolonged Desk Activities


• Jobs with repetitive tasks may cause the individual to be in one position for an extended period of time. Try to vary tasks throughout the day and take breaks to stand up, stretch, and move around. This can be accomplished by mixing alternating tasks into the workday such as filing and copying. The general rule of thumb is to try to get up and move around every 30 minutes.


Helpful Hints


• There is not a “perfect” work station setup, and components may need to be changed often, especially if there are a variety of users.
• Remember that there should be a way to change the height of all components of the work station, whether lowering, raising, or adding items beneath.
• Making changes to one component may result in a need to change other items within your work station.
• The ergonomics of kiosk stations should also be considered regarding the computer, keyboard, and pointer device positioning.
• Frequently review work station ergonomics as new components are brought into the area.


Desk Injuries


• Carpal Tunnel Syndrome - Repetitive tasks can lead to injuries. If your job focuses on computer work, and the wrists are not supported when typing, one’s wrist could be placed in an awkward position causing pain and irritation to the nerves and tendons in the wrist. Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome could include numbness and tingling into the hands, pain, weakness, and changes in sensation. The first thing to do is make sure you are taking breaks to avoid static positions and stretch. Also look to make sure your wrist positions are good and that you are not resting the bottom of your wrist on the sharp edge of the desk.
• Back and neck pains/strains – Poor or awkward posture and positioning due to improper ergonomic setup can lead to back and neck pains and strains. Forward head posture, rounded shoulders, and slouching can place unnecessary tension on nerves, muscles and disks through the spine. Also, unsupported arms can cause neck, shoulder and upper back pain.


ProEx Wants to Help You


• ProEx Physical Therapists are trained on the components of proper desk ergonomics. If you feel that your work station may not be set up properly, please contact your local ProEx Physical Therapist.
• If you have a new or pre-existing injury due to your work setup, let us evaluate your injuries and devise an appropriate treatment plan.
• Remember, early reporting of work station-related injuries is the key to staying healthy and staying in work!

Desk Ergonomics