How to adjust my chair to prevent back pain

back pain from extended periods of sitting

If you experience back, shoulder or neck pain while sitting at you desk, you are not alone! Numerous studies have found that desk workers often have musculoskeletal problems, most commonly in the neck, shoulders and lower back. Upper and lower back pain is often caused by sitting on an incorrectly adjusted office chair. To avoid becoming part of this statistic, it is important to know how to adjust your chair to prevent back pain.

1. Common causes of pain when sitting

Upper and lower back, neck and shoulder pain when sitting, can be caused by several factors. Without doubt, the biggest contributor is an incorrect sitting posture. Most people spend 10 hours or more per day sitting, and unfortunately, our bodies are not designed to sit.

Sitting is a static posture that can cause increased stress in the back, neck, arms and legs – read more. Furthermore, it can increase the pressure in the back muscles and spinal discs. As we work, our core muscles get tired and we have a tendency to slouch in our chair. Being focused on our work, we are often not even aware that we are doing so!

2. How to adjust your chair to prevent back pain

Sitting at your desk, your:

  • feet should be planted firmly and flat on the floor or on a stable footrest. Keep your legs un-crossed.
  • thighs should be sloping slightly downwards so that your knees are below the level of your hips.
  • lower back should be supported by a lumbar support that can be adjusted to suit your back.
  • elbows should be relaxed and supported on height adjustable armrests. The elbows should be close to your body.
  • wrists and hands should be in line with your forearms.
  • shoulders should be relaxed.
correct sitting posture to avoid shoulder pain
An incorrect sitting posture can lead to musculoskeletal problems.

A good posture is the key to avoiding and relieving back, neck and shoulder pain.

3. Your Desk

Your desk should be level with your elbows. If it is too high, raise the height of your chair and use a footrest or a stack of books to support your feet. Do not let your feet dangle in the air as this will cause additional pressure on the underside of your thighs. Dangling legs can create a feeling of instability.

If the desk is too low and is not height adjustable, do not compensate by lowering the height of your chair. Rather raise your keyboard and monitor, or better still, place some blocks under your desk to make it higher. If you don’t, you will have to continuously bend forward which will cause pain in your neck and shoulders.

If the desk is too low and is not height adjustable, do not compensate by lowering the height of your chair.

correct and incorrect sitting posture. How to adjust your chair to prevent back pain
Correct and incorrect sitting posture at a desk with a computer monitor

4. Your Computer Monitor

The monitor should be about an arm’s length away from you. The top of your screen should be just below your eye level. If you wear glasses or corrective lenses, they are usually designed either for reading or distance, but not computer work. This means that you may have to adjust the position of your monitor to match the focal length of your glasses. For example, if you wear reading glasses, you will usually have to move the monitor closer towards you. Using a monitor arm will enable you to quickly and easily adjust the position of the monitor.

Keep your monitor and keyboard centered in front of you. If you constantly twist your neck to look at your monitor or your paperwork, you can easily end up with neck and shoulder pain. A good solution is to use a Microdesk.

Continuously using a laptop without a laptop stand or external monitor, is terrible for your posture. It can cause headaches, shoulder, upper and lower back pain. If you are a regular laptop user, always use an external keyboard and mouse with either a laptop stand or external monitor.

If you use two screens, determine roughly how much time you spend on each. Centre the one you use most often in front of you, and move the other to the side. If you use both equally, then position them side-by-side with the centre-line directly in front of you.

5. Move

Movement is critical. Use a chair with a swivel mechanism that promotes dynamic sitting.

Every 30-40 minutes get up and move around. Do some stretching of your back and neck, do a few squats, walk, jump, roll your shoulders. Do anything to get your joints and muscles moving and blood pumping through your muscles and to your brain.