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How to Achieve the Best Set Up for Your Desk at Home or Work

The first step of setting up your desk is using the information provided in our earlier blog post on setting up your chair. Only once your chair is set up should you turn your attention to your desk. The middle row of the keyboard should be level with the elbow (forearms parallel or slightly sloping downwards). An upward slope has the potential to cause problems with pressure points on the forearms or persistent shrugging of the shoulder girdle, leading to upper muscles of your neck becoming tense. Ideally, the desk should be motorised to allow constant changing between sitting and standing for better posture. Continue reading for further instructions on properly setting up your desk at home or work.


The desktop should not be cluttered, allowing plenty of space for all of your necessary stationery and equipment.


The recommended viewing distance is between 50 and 100cm. You should be able to read all the text easily with the head and trunk in an upright posture and the spine fully supported on the back of the chair. The top tool bar of the screen should be at eye level or below. The screen should be tilted so that it is perpendicular to the line of sight. If experiencing eye problems, or if you’re a non-touch typist, there may be justification for having the screen in a lower position. Position the screen at ninety degrees to any light source to avoid glare and reflections.

Document Holder

If working from printed text, a document holder is useful. This should be positioned in between the keyboard and the screen or as close as possible to the side of the screen. Different types are available according to whether paper documents or files need to be supported.

Keyboard and Mouse

Allow sufficient space in front of your keyboard to rest your hands when not typing. There should be no over reach on the keyboard or mouse. A standard keyboard is approximately 45cm wide with a numerical pad sticking out to the right which forces a right handed person’s arm further away from the body. A solution is to provide a shorter keyboard that’s 30cm wide without the numerical pad. If experiencing pain on the left or right side, it may be advisable to change the mouse over to the other arm and use the control keys to ‘share the load’, or vary your input devices. Many different input devices are available and it is very important to get the right one. You can find further information at www.abilitynet.org.uk.

Wrist Rests

Wrist or palm rests are not usually required and should only be used when resting the wrist and not when inputting data using the keyboard or mouse. Movement should be free flowing from the upper limbs and not isolated to the wrists. The hand should be in line with the forearm, and upwards or side bending movement of the wrist should be avoided.


Cradling the telephone between the neck and shoulders can cause severe muscle tension. If you regularly use the telephone, consider a headset.

Additional Tips

Don’t Forget to Be Active

Enforced static posture is bad. With office related musculo-skeletal disorders on the increase, it is now widely appreciated that movement has to be introduced into the office scenario. It is often said that “the best posture to assume is the next one”.

Here are some ways to create movement in the office environment:

  • Take mini breaks regularly – at least hourly. Use this time to stand up, move around, change posture and maybe do some of the exercises detailed below.
  • Keep your mouse and telephone within easy reach and alternate between the left and right side, which may help alleviate tension in the neck and upper limbs.
  • If you have a free float or recline mechanism on your chair, use it to regularly change your position. This will have the effect of maintaining tone in the trunk muscles and improving circulation, breathing and alertness.
  • If you have an electronic height adjustable workstation, use the opportunity to sit, perch or stand whilst continuing with your office work. If you have a fixed height desk, try to stand up whenever possible. E.g. when you’re on the phone or talking to colleagues.
  • Regularly look away from your screen and focus on objects in the distance to try and prevent eye strain.
  • Be fit to work. Exercise regularly! Attend the gym or an exercise class such as Pilates and/or make the effort to walk or cycle to work. A conditioned body is much less likely to get aches and pains.

Participate in Deskercise

Try to do these exercises frequently throughout the day whilst sitting in your office chair. Doing a few exercises throughout the day will help to reduce the risk of computer related pain. All of these exercises should be done slowly and gently whilst sitting in a good upright posture. None of the exercises below should cause pain. For visual representation of these and additional exercises, visit: www.londoncityphysiotherapy.com.

  1. Chest Stretch – Put the heel of your hands into your lower back. Draw your elbows back and down. Keeping your head and neck steady with chin tucked in, lift your chest towards the ceiling. Take a deep breath, hold for 5 seconds and then relax.
  2. Trunk Side Stretch – Place one hand on the edge of the chair for support, and with the other hand, reach up to the ceiling and over the head and lean the trunk towards the supported hand. Hold for 5 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
  3. Posterior Shoulder Stretch – Grasp the elbow of one arm with your other hand and pull it across your chest to the opposite shoulder to stretch the back of the shoulder. Hold for 5 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
  4. Neck Mobiliser – Turn your head to the left and right, keeping your chin in and aiming your chin at your shoulders. Hold for 5 seconds on each side.
  5. Chin Tuck – Sitting tall, imagine you are suspended by a piece of string from the crown of your head. Keeping your eyes level with the horizon, tuck your chin in to make a double chin. Hold for 5 seconds, then repeat 3 times.
  6. Forwards Press – Gently interlock your fingers, palms facing away from you. Press your palms away from your body, gently stretching the forearm muscles, fingers and muscles between the shoulder blades. Hold for 5 seconds.
  7. Shoulder Shrug – Keep your shoulders back and lift them towards your ears, breathing in slowly. Tighten the muscles in your shoulders and hold for 5 seconds. Breathe out as you drop the shoulders. Repeat 3 times.
  8. Doorway Chest Stretch – Stand upright facing an open doorway in a stride position. Place your hands on the door frame so they are level with your shoulders. Lean your body through the doorway, leading with the chest and keeping your chin in. Hold for 5 seconds.

If you have a pre-existing musculo-skeletal disorder or medical condition, it may be advisable to discuss these exercises with a medical professional before starting. For more information, get in touch with Physio Melbourne Clinic.

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