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Are you sitting comfortably?

The occurrence of low back and neck pain relates directly to static postures such as standing and sitting, as well as dynamic activities such as bending, lifting, and twisting. Research evidence shows that sitting correctly, with a gentle hollow (lordosis) in your lumbar spine (low back), with adequate support, leads to a decrease in both low back and neck pain.

Unfortunately many assessment guides use a stylised picture to emphasise those areas the assessment concentrates on. This has led to the impression that we should sit very straight with our back away from the back of the chair, arms and hands held rigidly at 90° reaching slightly towards the keyboard and mouse. The following is a step-by-step guide to setting up your chair for working at a desk. This applies equally to your home and your office!!

  • Recline the back of the seat between 5 and 10 degrees.

  • Place your backside as far back in the chair as it will go. Adjust the height of the back of the chair so that its shape conforms as closely as possible to the shape of your back.

  • Sit back so that your back is supported. If you now relax, you should remain in the same position.

  • Check the depth of the seat: ideally there should be 2-3 fingers width between the front edge of the seat and the back of your lower leg. If there isn’t you either need longer legs or a shallower seat!

  • Sit into your desk. If the arms of the chair prevent you from sitting right in, move them down or remove them completely.

  • Set the height of your chair so that, when you place your hands on the keyboard of your computer, your shoulders are relaxed and your elbows are slightly more open than 90 degrees.

  • Check that there isn’t too much pressure on the back of your upper leg or a sensation of pulling across the base of your back: try putting your feet on a footrest, or even the telephone directory, to see if this makes you more comfortable.

  • Bring the keyboard and mouse close to you so that you do not have to reach away from your body to operate them.

  • Adjust the screen so that it is no more than an arm’s length away when you are sitting back in your chair, and that you are looking down to your screen with the top of the screen just below eye level.

Office ergonomics

Do’s and Don’ts


  • Make sure you are sitting straight on to the screen of your computer.

  • If you are working from a document, make sure it is raised so that you are not bending and twisting to read it.

  • Use a writing slope when doing written work.

  • Use a headset if you are a frequent user of the telephone.

  • Get up and move as often as possible: 5 minutes at the end of each hour should be the minimum.


  • Sit out of the back of your chair or lean forward continually when working.

  • Lift from a seated position, or twist to reach for files etc – always get up and move!

  • Reach across your desk repeatedly to perform routine tasks such as printing, lifting the ‘phone etc. – move objects closer to you or get up and move.


The principles of setting up your office seat apply when adjusting your car seat too. The difference is that, when driving, leg movement is an integral part of the activity, which tends to draw you out of the back of the seat.

  • Recline the back of the seat between 5 and 10 degrees.

  • Place your backside as far back in the seat as it will go.

  • Lean back so that your back is supported. If you have an adjustable lumbar support, use it to fill the hollow in your low back. If you don’t have this facility, and the shape of the seat doesn’t support you fully, use a cushion, roll, or rolled towel to provide that support.

  • Move the seat towards the steering wheel until, with your arms straight and still sitting right back in the seat, you can rest the creases of your wrists at ‘ten to two’ on the wheel.

  • Adjust the head restraint so that it is level with your ears and is approximately 5cms behind the back of your head.

The fundamental principle underlying this advice is to provide adequate support for your spine in a neutral position. If you try to achieve good sitting posture through active muscle work without support, it can lead to the wrong muscles becoming over active thus increasing your pain.

Strengthening muscles in the right way to provide support for your spine in dynamic situations such as bending, lifting, exercising etc is another part of your rehabilitation, and is made much easier if you have already corrected your static postures.

Written by Mr Tim Edbrooke- Physiotherapist at The London Spine Clinic

Copyright T. Edbrooke 2019.

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