Is Your Work Space Spine-Friendly?

Peer Reviewed

Setting up your office work space to avoid excessive back and neck strain is easier than you may think. Start by sitting in your chair facing forward with perfect posture. While seated, build the work environment around you. In other words, position each piece of furniture and equipment to accommodate your perfect posture. You may need to stack several books under your computer's monitor to bring it to eye-level. Perhaps a sliding keyboard attachment can make typing less stressful.

Remember, work might be a pain, but it doesn't have to cause pain! Imagine still feeling refreshed at the end of the workday. Here are 5 things you should know to make sure your office is good for your spine to help prevent back and neck strain and pain.

1. Practice safe sitting: Even with the best equipment, if you're not sitting correctly, your spine will suffer. When sitting, note where your head, hands, and legs are. To avoid back pain, make sure to do the following.

  • Sit upright with your back and shoulders against the back of the chair.
  • Avoid holding your phone between your head and shoulder.
  • Don't slouch.
  • Arms should rest lightly on the armrests to avoid circulatory problems or nerve pressure.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor. (Don't cross your legs!)
  • Relax your shoulders while typing.

Extra Set-Up Tip!
Spend a lot of time on the telephone? Then consider using a hands-free headset to prevent neck and shoulder pain.

2. Chair: Use a well-constructed ergonomic chair to help reduce fatigue and discomfort, increase your blood flow, and reduce the risk of injury to your neck and spine. These usually cannot be ordered by mail or off the Internet. This is one product that should be tried in the store so you know how it feels before buying it. Make sure your office chair:

  • Has a good backrest that provides lumbar support
  • Can recline (Sitting upright at a 90º angle is actually not good for your spine; a 100º to 110º angle is better.)
  • Is not too high (Your feet should be flat on the floor.)
  • Can rotate or swivel so that you can easily switch from task to task

3. Make sure your desk is:

  • Stable (not wobbly)
  • Good height (28" to 30" above the floor is suitable for most adults.)
  • Large enough for your computer and has surface space for writing and other tasks
  • Not so large that you have to over-reach to do your work (This can cause excessive strain on the spine.)

4. Computer: Since so much office work is done on computers, where your equipment is placed can make a difference in how your back feels when you are at work. Try the following tips.

  • Tilt the keyboard down and slightly away from you for better wrist posture.
  • Make sure your mouse is close enough so that you can use it with your arms relaxed, and let it be as close to your body as possible.
  • Place the monitor directly in front of you at eye level, not off to one side, to avoid neck and eye strain.
  • If using a laptop, consider getting an external monitor or keyboard (or both). This will allow you to move each of these components separately to create a comfortable arrangement.

5. Take a break: Not just a coffee break, but a spine break. Stretch, take a short walk, get the blood flowing. When you are at your desk, avoid staying in one position for a long time. Try switching between sitting and standing.

Updated on: 08/09/16
Curtis A. Dickman, MD
There are many simple things we can do to treat symptoms of low back pain. Arranging our workspaces ergonomically, watching our posture, weight control, avoiding mechanical stress on the spine, performing exercises and stretching are fundamental to maintaining a healthy spine.
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