Imperial Health at Work


Sitting correctly to avoid back pain

Anyone who uses a computer or sits at a desk needs to watch how they sit to avoid back pain. Even if you are only sitting down for a short period of time each day, sitting incorrectly can cause you to slump forwards.

You need to check your whole body, from your feet to your head to make sure you are sitting correctly.


Your feet should be flat on the floor, about hip distance apart. Your knees should be slightly lower than your hips – you may need to adjust the height of your chair, or place your feet on a footstool to achieve this. Try to avoid crossing your legs or feet.


Sit back in your chair with your bottom touching the back of the chair. Ideally, your chair should follow the curve of your spine, but if it doesn’t, place a cushion or rolled towel in the arch of your back. This should provide lower back support and prevent you from slumping forwards.


Place your hands on your keyboard, leaving room between the edge of your desk and your keyboard so that you can rest your wrists. Your arms should be vertical by your sides, and form an L-shape.


Roll your shoulders back, keep them down and relaxed as much as possible and try not to slump forward as you type.


Once you are sat in your optimal position, you may need to adjust your screen. To find out where your screen should be, close your eyes and then open them. You gaze should rest near the top of your screen.

If you are using a laptop, you’ll probably need to rest your laptop on top of a screen riser or a pile of books or similar to make sure you don’t strain your neck by looking down at the screen.


Depending on how long you spend at your desk, and what exactly you do at your desk, you may want to consider the following accessories:

  • a wrist rest ­– this is useful if your wrists are not level with your keyboard;
  • a headset – if you spent a lot of time on the phone, you may end up twisting your neck or back. Buying a headset can help this.

Taking breaks

Standing up regularly and stretching your limbs will help decrease the negative effects of being sedentary. Try to get up every half an hour or so and walk around, even if it’s just for a short time. Also try to walk for at least twenty minutes at lunch and take the stairs instead of the lift if possible.

If you are experiencing back pain, you could try some of these back stretches suggested by NHS Choices. You might also consider taking up yoga, or going for a massage. To learn more about musculoskeletal disorders, see this post. For more tips on health and wellbeing, don't forget to follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.