Injury prevention Student Health Wellness

7 tips to help you set up your desk

Back pain
Sybil Millar
Written by Sybil Millar

Are you sure your desk is set up properly? Maybe you’re setting up a home office or starting a new job. Or, maybe you spend most of the time hunched over your keyboard, and you’ve realized your posture at your desk resembles a pretzel more and more every day. While details like chair height and keyboard placement can seem trivial, sitting for hours each day at a poorly set up desk can have significant long-term health consequences.

Joanne Dorion, a physiotherapist in Sunnybrook’s Occupational Health & Safety Department, has seen many injuries that develop over time from poor desk setup and posture. “We frequently see people with forearm pain including tennis elbow, when the muscles on the back of the forearm are strained from poor hand and wrist positioning on the keyboard. Shoulder and rotator cuff injuries are also common, which can be caused over time by holding your arms too far out to the side and forward while typing,” says Dorion.

Dorion has seven easy adjustments you can make to your workspace to make it as comfortable (and safe) as possible:

Raise or lower your keyboard tray

When you’re typing, your elbows should have an L-shaped (90 degree) bend and be at the same height as the keyboard. “Your arms and elbows should be by your side, with your arms bent at about 90 degrees and with straight wrists,” says Dorion. Don’t have a keyboard tray? Raise or lower your chair instead to allow your arms to naturally settle into a 90 degree position.

Keep your feet flat on the ground

If they aren’t, use a footrest, or grab a box or phonebook

Pull your keyboard toward you

Your keyboard should be close to the edge of your desk. “Doing this will naturally bring your posture in to a good position,” says Dorion.

Mind the position of your mouse

The mouse should be placed next to (and at the same height as) the keyboard

Adjust the height of your monitor

Your eyes should be in line with the top one-third of your computer monitor. “This will help to keep you sitting tall in your chair,” says Dorion

Get your monitor distance just right

The screen should be about one arm’s length (40-74 cm) away. If it’s too close, you’ll strain your eyes; too far, and you’ll bend forward, affecting your posture. “Poking your chin out puts a lot of strain on your neck,” says Dorion

Pay attention to your back and shoulders

Your back should be well supported, and your shoulders should be relaxed at all times

What if you spend most of your time on a laptop? Laptops are tricky because the screen and keyboard are close together, so you can’t get into a proper position. Dorion recommends changing the positioning of your laptop often, so as not to spend too long in one position. Type with the laptop near the edge of the table, which is better for the arms and wrists. While keeping the laptop further away is easier on your eyes, it is very hard on your arms and neck. “If you find your eyes fatiguing, look away from the screen on a regular basis to let the eyes rest,” says Dorion. If using a laptop away from a desk, prop it up on your lap with cushions to reduce the strain on the neck.

An even better solution to the laptop problem? If you can’t get a separate monitor, “get yourself a wireless keyboard and mouse. It will make a huge difference,” says Dorion.

After making the adjustments listed above, even if you do find a very comfortable position, it’s not a good idea to stay like that all day. “Change your position often, do some gentle stretches for tense muscles and take short breaks to stand up and walk around, “says Dorion.

About the author

Sybil Millar

Sybil Millar

Sybil Millar is the Communications Advisor for the Ross Tilley Burn Centre, Critical Care and Infectious Diseases programs at Sunnybrook.

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