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How To Be Pain Free At Your Desk

At Northwest Physiotherapy Group, we see many clients with a range of conditions that spend large amounts of time sitting.  We know from our experience that prolonged and poor sitting postures are one of the most common ways for strain to build up in the body.  Correct ergonomics and ideal posture are therefore extremely important to remain pain free at work.

There are 3 key steps to be pain free at your desk:

  1. Step 1 – Correct Ergonomic Setup
  2. Step 2 – Using Muscle Tone to Find Optimum Posture
  3. Step 3 – Pacing


Step 1 – Correct Ergonomic Setup

The first step is to have the correct ergonomic set up of your chair, desk and computer to minimise strain on your body.  For further details read the 10 steps to set up your own ergonomic workstation

Essentially we are aiming to achieve a neutral position for both the shoulder and spine. Some cues to assist with this:

  • Head and Neck: elongate neck / feeling tall / chin tucked in slightly
  • Shoulders: Gently squeezing shoulders back
  • Lower Back: Maintain slight curve in low back

Below provides an example of good sitting posture: 

It always helps to compare correct posture with some common poor postures – postures that will lead to accumulated strain on the musculoskeletal system much more quickly.  


Below are some examples of common poor postures that often contribute to pain and discomfort

Forward Head Posture is poor posture

Leaning in is poor posture

Sitting on the edge of the chair is poor posture

Once you have positioned yourself into a comfortable posture with the use of the ergonomic guidelines, we move to step 2. 

Step 2 – Using Muscle Tone to find Optimum Posture

Step 2 involves the use muscle tone to ensure you are achieving optimal posture, as this is going to be slightly different for everyone. When your spine and shoulder are in neutral, muscle activity is at its least.  The use of muscle tone therefore becomes a very useful self-monitoring strategy to help guide you into your neutral position. 

To help guide you into the optimal posture with the use of muscle tone/tension, you can view the following links: 

A simple way to assess muscle tension while working
How to find your best sitting and standing posture

Muscle tone is the texture or nature of tension in the muscle at rest.

What is a happy muscle? At rest happy muscles are soft and ‘floppy”; they give under finger pressure. 

What is an unhappy muscle? It’s a muscle that is tight, even at rest. It will feel like a rope or a knot, will not give under finger pressure and is likely to be tender. It indicates that a muscle is under constant load or in a protective/reactive state.

Why is it important to have good muscle tone? Tension and ‘knots’ can be a protective mechanism reducing optimal function and leading to greater energy needed to perform a task. Reducing muscle tension is a sign of better function.

What muscles are important to check whilst sitting at your desk?

Important to check these muscles whilst sitting at your desk

To help guide you into the optimal posture with the use of muscle tone/tension, you can view the following links: 

A simple way to assess muscle tension while working
How to find your best sitting and standing posture

STEP 3 - Pacing

While correct ergonomic setup and optimum posture are paramount in helping to prevent the build-up of strain, pacing is equally important.  Even when we are sitting in the correct position, with optimal posture, if we sit for too long we can still end up placing excessive strain on our musculoskeletal system. 

Regular movement and posture variation throughout your working day is extremely important to help prevent accumulative muscle and joint strain. 

Short frequent breaks are more effective than longer breaks taken less often. 

General rule is to stand and move for at least a few minutes every 30 minutes. 

With increased awareness of the need to change your posture regularly throughout the day, we have seen an increase in the use of sit-stand desks within the workplace. 

If using a sit-stand desk, it is recommended to alternate working in sitting and standing regularly.  General rule is 20 minutes of standing every hour, although this may vary for individual circumstances. 

If you are still finding it difficult to achieve the correct position and reduce your muscle tension while working, this may indicate an imbalance throughout your body that needs to be addressed. Contact us at Northwest Physiotherapy Group on 9370 5654 to assist with this. 

Getting Further Help

We can also provide further training within the workplace to assist in putting all of these strategies into practice.  The following options are available:

  1. Half hour presentation:  to provide an overview of these 3 key steps.
  2. Group training (maxmimum 10 people):  Provides further insight and education to staff to assist in applying all of these principles effectively
  3. Train the trainer: We can provide more in-depth training to key personnel who will be involved in training other staff in these concepts. 

Please contact us on 9370 5654 if you would like to discuss these options further and how we can best assist your workplace.