Ergonomic working positions: how to avoid neck and back pains

Your working position and posture at your desk, especially in front of your computer, can dramatically impact your health and job satisfaction.

Many of us spend most of our day at the desk and in front of a screen, whether at the office or at home. However, staying in the same work position and not moving can be very taxing for the body. 

Most people, who work in front of a screen, have at some point experienced pain in the neck, shoulders, or arms as well as screen fatigue and headaches. These ailments can typically be attributed to sitting in the same position for many hours at a time.

To avoid neck, back, and shoulder pain, it is essential that your workstation is set up right – and that you and your employer work together to create beneficial conditions and habits that help you alternate your posture, while sitting in front of your screen.

In this article, you can read more about:

  • How to maintain a better posture at your desk or in front of your computer.
  • How your physical work environment should be furnished (whether in the office or at home).
  • What the law says about ergonomics at your workplace.

Six tips for a better work posture at your desk and in front of your computer

If you are sitting at a desk or in front of a screen for a prolonged period of time each day, it is important to maintain a good working position. Taking breaks, alternating between sitting and standing, and practicing a good posture are all on the long list of tips that can protect you from neck pains, sore muscles, and back pains.

The recommended working position is a relaxed and comfortable position that allows you to perform your job with ease and without tension in your shoulders, back, and neck.

You should:

  1. Sit with a straight back – so that your lower back touches the backrest.
  2. Relax your shoulders and bend your elbows at a 90° angle – so your underarms can comfortably rest on the desk.
  3. Make sure that there is what is equivalent to a fist between your thighs and the bottom of your desk (of course this will be less, if the desk has drawers).
  4. Place your feet firmly on the ground.
  5. Place your keyboard and mouse (or touchpad) so that they align with your elbows.
  6. Place your screen 40 to 80 centimeters from your head.
  7. Adjust your screen – so that the top of your screen is at eye level and is tilted slightly back.

    The purpose of these tips is to help you avoid hunching over or tensing up in your muscles and body.

    If you use a laptop, it can be challenging to follow these suggestions. A significant drawback to working on a traditional laptop is that it is often not possible to have the top of the screen at eye level while at the same time resting the keyboard on the desk. In practice, you are almost always having to bend your back or head when looking at your screen.

    Having a desk with the correct desk height – or a height-adjustable desk – can help you to vary your working position and, in doing so, avoid neck and back pains.

    How should your home working environment be furnished?

    The Danish Working Environment Authority and the Working Environment Act place specific requirements on screen work – whether in the workplace or in the home office.

    The requirements are quite comprehensive, but we have compiled a summary of the key points. If you are interested in a full version of the act, you can find it on the homepage of the Danish Working Environment Authority.

    Here’s a short overview of the most important regulations, when it comes to working from home:

    1. Your monitor or screen must be adjustable. The characters on the screen must be easily discernible and sufficiently large for the sake of readability. You must also be able to adjust the screen’s brightness and contrast.
    2. You must be able to tilt and turn your monitor  – optionally, your desk can be height adjustable, thereby achieving the same result.
    3. Your keyboard and mouse must be designed to allow you to move appropriately. The keyboard must be separate from the screen, and there must be enough space in front of the keyboard to enable you to rest your hands and underarms on the surface of the desk.
    4. Your desk must give you sufficient space to work. The height of the desk must fit your body and your tasks, and it should be deep and broad enough to make room for the monitor to be placed at a proper viewing distance, and there should be enough space to rest your hands and underarms in front of the keyboard.
    5. Your chair must be stable. It must be height adjustable, and the backrest should be tiltable.

    You can read in more detail about these requirements in our guide to your home office.

    Remember: alternate your working posture several times a day

    Aside from furnishing your home office in an ergonomically correct way, it is important that you structure your day in a way that allows for breaks and variety.

    The more your body is locked in the same position, the greater the risk that you will experience various types of discomforts and pains. Getting away from your screen from time to time minimizes the risk of putting too much stress on your eyes and body.

    When the opportunity presents itself, it can also be a good idea to change your work position – even when performing the same tasks. You can do this by sitting differently or elevating your standing desk and continue to work while standing upright.

    The longer you sit in front of your computer for work, the more your employer is required to structure your work and assignments in a way that allows for variation. It also places greater requirements on them to ensure a healthy and safe physical work environment.

    Ergonomics at work: the rules and the law

    In accordance with the Working Environment Act, companies are required to ensure a healthy working environment for employees, who perform screenwork at the office or at home.

    Aside from structuring the working day to afford employees variation and occasional breaks, workplaces also need to live up to certain requirements with respect to office furniture and equipment at the workplace. This also applies when you are working from home. Read more about it here.

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