Finding your ideal desk and work height can improve your posture and help prevent painful back, neck and arm problems.
If your desk doesn’t fit you, it can cause you to hunch over your work or have to crane your neck forward, both of which can lead to strain on the upper body as you try to find a comfortable working position.
You need to make sure you’re sitting in the best possible position to minimise the incidence of MSK (Musculoskeletal) injury. However, sitting correctly won’t be much good if you don’t ensure you also have the correct desk set-up to ensure you can work comfortably. So getting an ergonomic chair is not enough. You should think of your desk and chair as a mutually dependent workspace, where both units must fit.
Although chairs come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes, desks are generally manufactured to certain specific dimensions; this is particularly true of height. If only the same could be said of employees who, unfortunately for office furniture designers, vary considerably in height from individual and individual.
Here’s how to work out whether your desk is the right height for you;
- Sit as close to the desk as is comfortable, with your elbows by your sides, your upper arms parallel to your spine and so your hands can rest comfortably on the desk
- Check your arms are bent at the elbows at a 90 degree angle.
- Ideally your knees should be bent in a 90 degree angle with your feet parallel to your hips and flat on the floor
If you can’t do all of the above, you need to look at changing your seating position.
While we sit, the circulation to our lower limbs can be compromised. By the end of a normal working day (eight hours or so), the average person’s ankles swell by about 6 to 8 percent. However, if you already suffer from back, leg, or circulation problems, this can increase to around 10 to 15 percent and it has also been shown that sitting too high at your desk can increase the strain on the circulatory system as the chair puts greater pressure on the underside of the leg.
A seat height ranging from 42 to 56 centimetres off the ground is suitable for most workers. To test whether or not your chair is too high, slide your finger underneath your thigh at the front end of the chair. If it’s easy to do, the seat of your chair is set at a good height. If there is less than a finger’s width of space between your thigh and chair, it’s likely that your chair is too high.
Additionally, if you’re sitting this high, you may have to lift your feet of the ground or balance on your toes. This is also not ideal and should be addressed by using a footstool to rest your feet on throughout the day. Footstools can also be used to reduce pressure on the soles of your feet.
Being too tall for your desk can also be a problem. If you are particularly tall, try the “finger test” on your chair; if there is more than a finger width between your thigh and your chair, your desk is probably too low and you should consider making it higher. Raising the height of your work surface can also help ease back pain; it will enable you to sit straighter and therefore relieve the strain on your spine.
We must stress, though, that your work surface must be raised correctly and safely – simply putting books under the legs is not a good idea but believe us, we’ve seen that solution on many occasions! You should only raise desk legs off the floor using specially modified risers to ensure stability. Alternatively, some people prefer to use a writing slope to raise the actual working surface of their desks to the right height. If you go for this option, consider a slope with a built-in height adjuster, so you can easily utilise it for a variety of tasks.
Poor organization and configuration of your workstation as a whole can ruin your posture even in the best chai, so it’s also important to ensure things are organised on your desk’s surface to enable you to reach everything easily, without having to over stretch your upper body. Consider where you locate the tools (computer, keyboard, mouse, phone, etc.) you use most frequently, so that they are easy to operate without strain or undue effort.
It’s very important to consider ergonomics when purchasing a new office chair. However, the chair only determines how you sit. Your line of vision, movement of your arms and overall position of your body will influence your posture.
So it’s important to ensure you get your desk right as well; you spend a lot of time sitting at it so it’s worth make in the effort to ensure it’s a comfortable place to work.