How to sit correctly

If you work in an office and use a computer, you can avoid injury by sitting in the right position and arranging your desk correctly.

Support your back

Avoid back pain by adjusting your chair so that your lower back is properly supported. A correctly adjusted chair will reduce the strain on your back. Get one that is easily adjustable so that you can change the height, back position and tilt. Have your knees level with your hips. You may need a footrest for this.

Adjust your chair

Adjust your chair height so that you can use the keyboard with your wrists and forearms straight and level with the floor. This can help prevent repetitive strain injuries. Your elbows should be by the side of your body so that the arm forms an L-shape at the elbow joint. 

Rest your feet on floor

Your feet should be flat on the floor. If they’re not, ask if you can have a footrest, which lets you rest your feet at a level that’s comfortable. Don't cross your legs, as this can cause posture-related problems.

Place your screen at eye level

Your screen should be directly in front of you. A good guide is to place the monitor about an arm's length away, with the top of the screen roughly at eye level. To achieve this you may need to get a stand for your monitor. If the screen is too high or too low, you'll have to bend your neck, which can be uncomfortable.

Using the keyboard

Place your keyboard in front of you when typing. Leave a gap of about four to six inches (100mm-150mm) at the front of the desk to rest your wrists between bouts of typing. Your wrists should be straight when using a keyboard. Keep your elbows vertical under your shoulder and right by your side. Some people like to use a wrist rest to keep their wrists straight and at the same level as the keys. 

Keep your mouse close

Position and use the mouse as close to you as possible. A mouse mat with a wrist pad may help to keep your wrist straight and avoid awkward bending. If you are not using your keyboard, push it to one side if using the mouse a lot.

Avoid screen reflection

Your screen should be as glare-free as possible. If there’s glare on your screen, hold a mirror in front of it to identify the cause. Position the monitor to avoid reflection from overhead lighting and sunlight. If necessary, pull blinds across the windows and replace ceiling lighting with table lights. Adjusting the screen's brightness or contrast can make it much easier to use.

Working with spectacles

People with bifocal spectacles may find them less than ideal for computer work. It's important to be able to see the screen easily without having to raise or lower your head. If you can’t work comfortably with bifocals, you may need a different type of spectacles. Consult your optician if in doubt.

Make objects accessible

Position frequently used objects, such as your telephone or stapler, within easy reach. Avoid repeatedly stretching or twisting to reach things. 

Avoid phone strain

If you spend a lot of time on the phone, try exchanging your handset for a headset. Repeatedly cradling the phone between your ear and shoulder can strain the muscles in your neck.

Healthy back at work

Trevor Shaw, principal ergonomist, explains how bad posture contributes to health problems including back pain. He describes how to improve your health at work.

Media last reviewed: 02/10/2013

Next review due: 02/10/2015

Page last reviewed: 12/07/2014

Next review due: 12/07/2016

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The 3 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

kimsuet said on 13 February 2014

I have benefited from having Alexander Technique lessons over the last few years. These have taught me how to sit correctly and avoid slumping over my computer. It has resolved my back pain issues over the long term. Its not a quick fix but the advice they give you is very helpful.

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angiec1962 said on 21 April 2010

Its a pity the NHS does not put into practise what it preaches, I work in an NHS hospital and when I asked for my screen to be raised I was told no, And that I would have to get an occupational health check on my workstation to get one that can be raised. I was told the same thing when I asked for a phone that came with a headset.

What is the point of making these recommendations when you wont even provide the necessary tools to your staff?

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Rikstar said on 27 March 2010

I never read monitor placement advice that takes into account users who wear bifocal or varifocal glasses. Doesn't the NHS know that tens of thousands of us have gone to Specsavers?

If the top of my monitor was level with my eyes, my head would be constantly tilted back so I could see through the bottom portion of my lenses - a great recipe for neck ache if ever there was one. The best position for me is to have the monitor top level with my shoulders, which is exactly what I get when I use a large laptop on me knees.

My desktop monitor has no stand to keep it much lower than your guidelines state.

Perhaps this sitting and viewing advice should be altered accordingly so spectacle wearers aren't made anxious when they find it hard follow your current advice.

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