Ergonomics - How You Should be Sitting...

Ergonomics- Your Home & Work Set Up

So you see your osteopath for that niggly low backache, or those tedious background headaches?

That’s great, but this osteopath in particular keeps reiterating how you can help yourself and minimise the regularity of these issues!

Yes I know I can be a bit militant about it BUT those two days you work from your home office - aka the sofa, dining table or heaven forbid, your bed; can have a huge impact on the level of discomfort you feel & the ongoing effectiveness of any manual therapist’s treatments.

Poor desk set up at work is also a significant concern to those of us trying to help you, as you spend so much of your day there.


According to Safe Work Australia, the total economic cost of work-related injuries and illnesses is estimated to be $60 billion dollars. Recent research has shown that lower back pain is the world’s most common work-related disability.

The purpose of ergonomically setting up your office space is to create a safe, comfortable and productive workspace by catering to your body size, strength, skill, speed and sensory abilities (vision, hearing).

Remember, there is no one size fits all when it comes to desks, chairs and computer positioning.

If the company you work for has an HR department please please please take advantage of them and have your workspace assessed – it’s not only in your best interests but also the company’s to ensure your long term productivity.

So lets consider your workspace set up –

STEP 1: Your Chair

The best sort are the standard clerical-type office chairs – not the large, high-backed reclining types which some people think (mistakenly) are guaranteed to be comfortable.

A good chair for working in needs the following features:

  • adjustable in height; so your feet are flat on the floor and your knees equal to, or preferably slightly lower than, your hips. If your feet don’t comfortably reach the floor use a foot rest.

  • a separately adjustable backrest you can bring forwards into the small of the back, as well as (preferably) altering vertically to suit your trunk length; adjust the back of the chair to a 100°-110° reclined angle. Make sure your upper and lower back are supported. Use inflatable cushions or small pillows if necessary. If you have an active back mechanism on your chair, use it to make frequent position changes

  • a seat short enough to allow you to get full back support without the front edge of the seat pushing into the back of your legs; the seat should support your hips and legs, and provide a 3-4 finger size space between the front edge of the seat and the back of your knees. Sliding seat options can help you set the proper depth position

  • a five-star base (for stability);

  • a curved, “waterfall” front;

  • well padded – you shouldn’t be able to feel the seat base under the padding when you’re slumped heavily in the chair.

  • armrests are usually unnecessary, and can get in the way or push your shoulders up, so consider a chair without them, otherwise adjust them so your shoulders are relaxed.

Always ask if the chair conforms to Australian Standard AS/NZS 4438 (“Height-adjustable swivel chairs”), published in 1997. There’s also a set of Standards on Fixed-height Chairs – AS/NZS 4688.1, 4688.2, 4688.3

STEP 2: Your Keyboard

An articulating keyboard tray can provide optimal positioning of input devices. However, it should accommodate the mouse, enable leg clearance, and have an adjustable height and tilt mechanism. The tray should not push you too far away from other work materials, such as your telephone.

  • Pull up close to your keyboard.

  • Position the keyboard directly in front of your body.

  • Determine what section of the keyboard you use most frequently, and readjust the keyboard so that section is centered with your body.

  • Adjust the keyboard height so that your shoulders are relaxed, your elbows are in a slightly open position (100° to 110°), and your wrists and hands are straight.

  • The tilt of your keyboard is dependent upon your sitting position. Use the keyboard tray mechanism, or keyboard feet, to adjust the tilt. If you sit in a forward or upright position, try tilting your keyboard away from you at a negative angle. If you are reclined, a slight positive tilt will help maintain a straight wrist position.

  • Wrist rests can help to maintain neutral postures and pad hard surfaces. However, the wrist rest should only be used to rest the palms of the hands between keystrokes. Resting on the wrist rest while typing is not recommended. Avoid using excessively wide wrist rests, or wrist rests that are higher than the space bar of your keyboard.

  • Place the mouse as close as possible to the keyboard. Placing it on a slightly inclined surface, or using it on a mouse bridge placed over the 10-keypad, can help to bring it closer.

If you do not have a fully adjustable keyboard tray, you may need to adjust your workstation height, the height of your chair, or use a seat cushion to get into a comfortable position. Remember to use a footrest if your feet dangle.

STEP 3: Screen, Document and Telephone

Incorrect positioning of the screen and source documents can result in awkward postures. Adjust the screen and source documents so that your neck is in a neutral, relaxed position.

  • Centre the screen directly in front of you, above your keyboard.

  • Position the top of the screen approximately 5-8cm above seated eye level. (If you wear bifocals, lower the screen to a comfortable reading level.)

  • Sit at least an arm’s length away from the screen and then adjust the distance for your vision.

  • Reduce glare by careful positioning of the screen. Position source documents directly in front of you, between the screen and the keyboard, using an in-line copy stand. If there is insufficient space, place source documents on a document holder positioned adjacent to the screen.

  • Place screen at right angles to windows

  • Adjust curtains or blinds as needed

  • Adjust the vertical screen angle and screen controls to minimise glare from overhead lights

  • Other techniques to reduce glare include use of optical glass glare filters, light filters, or secondary task lights

  • Place your telephone within easy reach. Telephone stands or arms can help.

  • Use headsets or speaker phone to eliminate cradling the handset between your ear and shoulder.

STEP 4: Pauses and Breaks

Once you have correctly set up your computer workstation employ good work habits. No matter how perfect the environment, prolonged, static postures will inhibit blood circulation and take a toll on your body.

  • Take short 1-2 minute stretch breaks every 20-30 minutes. After each hour of work, take a break or change tasks for at least 5-10 minutes. Always try to get away from your computer during lunch breaks.

  • Avoid eye fatigue by resting and refocusing your eyes periodically. Look away from the monitor and focus on something in the distance.

  • Rest your eyes by covering them with your palms for 10-15 seconds.

Use correct posture when working.

Keep moving as much as possible.

*Information supplied by UCLA Ergonomics

The Home Office-

Technically speaking if you’re working from home your home office needs to meet ergonomic safety standards.

If you work for a big company with great resources they really ought to provide an onsite check for you- especially if you primarily work from home.

Here are four things we can all do to help set up a safe and productive home office – these tips are also very useful when setting up your children’s desks – they should NEVER be studying on the sofa/on their beds…..

1. Get a decent chair – see notes above regarding office chair set up

2. Learn how to adjust your chair

Here’s a few things that you can do to adjust your chair to suit you.

  • alter its height until your shoulders are relaxed, not slumped, in the working position;

  • adjust the backrest into the small of your back;

  • ensure the seat pan is flat or sloping slightly downwards at the front;

  • use a footrest if there is still any pressure under your thighs. Alternatively, lower your desk (if you can) as well as your chair;

  • learn the elements of correct posture, and practice it!

3. Provide good, even lighting

Your whole working surface should be evenly illuminated, without shadows near your hand. Concealed fluorescent lighting is good (the tubes are cool, the light is well dispersed,and they have a long life); consider an extra desk lamp as well, but ensure that the light source itself is covered, and is kept out of your field of view.

Use curtains to control screen reflections or bright sunlight, and don’t sit facing a screen with bright daylight (like a window) beyond and behind the screen. Don’t put up with a dark or shiny desktop: they should be a light to medium color, matt finish.

4. Give yourself plenty of desktop space

Why not put your screen or laptop on a mobile, articulated holder? You can adjust it to suit (a good distance: about an arm’s length away, with the top of the screen level with your forehead), then use the handy space under it to move your keyboard out of the way. 700 mm is a good standard desk height, but will need to be lower for shorter people.

Many desks are still far too high. Put the things you use a lot within a comfortable arm’s reach (eg phone, notepad, reference files).

A desk should be 900 mm deep (front to back)for comfortable screen viewing, and your desk should not be thick (30 mm maximum).

Finally the last office related consideration…. the standing desk.

Personally I think these are a great resource & one that many of my patients would benefit from having access to.

Ideally I would advise alternating between a sitting & standing desk to avoid the negative effects of both, and again make sure you take regular breaks, set yourself & your desk space up properly & use an anti fatigue mat.

Written by Dr. Mia Rabjohn, Osteopath

References –

A great resource to refer to is the Officewise booklet produced by Comcare 2010,. (2015). Comcare - Home. Retrieved 2 May 2015, from

Dohrmann Consulting,. (2014). What is Ergonomics? - Dohrmann Consulting. Retrieved 2 May 2015, from

Hoy, D., March, L., Brooks, P., Blyth, F., Woolf, A., & Bain, C. et al. (2014). The global burden of low back pain: estimates from the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study. Annals Of The Rheumatic Diseases, 73(6), 968-974. doi:10.1136/annrheumdis-2013-204428

Sauser, R. (2015). UCLA Ergonomics - 4 STEPS to Setup Your Workstation. Retrieved 2 May 2015, from,. (2015). The Stand Up Desk Guide To Better Posture. Retrieved 3 May 2015, from

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