• Caitlin Cavarra Raymond, PT, DPT, OCS

Is Your Desk Set-Up Causing You Pain?

Learn How To Prevent Pain with Changing your Desk Set-Up





Last year during COVID, most people were required to work from home at some point. What that meant was converting dining rooms, kitchens and couches into their office spaces which is usually less than ideal for our bodies. As a physical therapist, I treated many people with new complaints of lower back pain, neck pain, wrist pain and upper back discomfort as a result of their desk set-up at home. Prior to COVID, poor desk ergonomics have always been a contributing factor to developing neck pain, back pain, wrist pain or carpal tunnel to name a few.


The majority of careers now require us to spend hours and hours on a laptop or computer. What this means is we must treat desk jobs as a form of manual labor because our bodies are not meant to be in one position alllllll day. When we put repetitive stress on our ligaments, muscles and nerves, it sets us up for pain, stiffness, tightness and weakness to occur in different areas. I don’t know how many clients I’ve asked how long they may sit and work at their computer without a break and their response is hours. So if you are spending hours at your desk or computer and the set-up is not great for your body, then it is only a matter of time before you will start to feel some sort of pain or tightness in your neck, lower back and shoulders.



However, there are key changes you can implement RIGHT NOW to start feeling better!



1. Position of your Keyboard and Mouse

  • You want your arms to be close by your side at approximately a 90 degree angle versus reaching out with your arms extended in front of you.

  • Try to not use your keyboard on your laptop if you can help it by getting a desk tray that allows you to have a separate keyboard closer to your body (See here: PC; Apple). This will help alleviate wrist tightness, carpal tunnel syndrome and shoulder strain.

  • If you have a traditional monitor set-up, it is almost always best to have a keyboard below the computer on a tray.

  • Keep your mouse close to your side and try to use a wireless mouse if you have a laptop. Our fingers don’t need extra strain, we use them all day!



2. Position of your Monitor

  • It is best to have the top of your monitor at eye level directly in front of you.

  • You want the monitor to be at a distance where you can see clearly in front of you without squinting or needing to crane your neck forward.

  • If you use glasses, you may need a special pair so you don’t have to tip your head backwards to read the screen clearly.

  • If you have more than 1 monitor, try not to only face one directly. Turn your entire trunk to the one screen instead of just turning your neck.


3. Your Position at your Desk if you’re Sitting

  • You want your chair to be adjustable so you can fit under your desk at the correct height and adjustable arms to move as needed.

  • Ideally, your feet are directly under your knees and touching the floor. You want a slight curve in your lower back, you can use a small towel roll if your chair does not have lumbar support. You want your hips and knees to be about at the same level.

  • Your shoulders are relaxed, not up by your ears and your neck is elongated looking forward not straight down.


4. Your Position at your Desk if you’re Standing

  • Have a soft bend in your knees instead of locking your knees out.

  • Apply the previous principles by keeping your keyboard and mouse near you with your arms rested by your side.

  • I highly recommend a sit to stand desk riser that you can use to vary between sitting and standing. It comes with a separate lower tray for your keyboard and mouse.

  • Make sure the riser or sit to stand desk is high enough for you where you can still look at the screen directly in front of you.

  • Shift your weight evenly between feet or even stand with one foot slightly in front of the other to vary your stance.




Hopefully these tips help you feel better right now! If you would like a virtual work desk set-up consultation, please contact me. If you are still experiencing pain in your neck or lower back or elsewhere, reach out and we would love to help you here at Engage Health+PT to feel better and be able to work more efficiently!

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