Office health

Sitting at a desk or stooping over a laptop for long periods of time can be bad for you. If you’re getting headaches, back pain, neck pain, or tingly fingers it may have something to do with your daily dose of screen time.

boy and girl at desk

Are you sitting comfortably?

How should I sit at work?

Yes, there are right and wrong ways to sit and if you spend a lot of your working time hunched over a computer it’s really important you sit right. You may not notice it for a while, but sitting badly day after day screws up your spine, neck and arms, and may cause health problems later on.

Robin Lansman, an osteopath who helps with workplace injuries, says it’s important to always do the following:

  • Make sure your bum is touching the very back of the seat so your whole back is leaning into the chair. Don’t perch. It locks your back up.
  • Sit so the computer screen is directly in front of you. No twisting.
  • Your eyes should be level with the middle of the screen. And the text should be big enough to read; otherwise your head will bend forward. This will hurt your neck as it struggles to hold the weight.
  • Tuck yourself in, right in, so your bellybutton is under or on the chair. If your chair has arms, make sure they can slide under the desk. This enforces all the above good habits and stops you stooping.
  • Make sure your keyboard and mouse are within easy reach so you’re not stretching to use them.

It’s also uber important to take regular breaks to give your body a rest. Free downloads, such as Workrave, run on your desktop and can help you get into good habits by doing simple exercises and stretches throughout the day.

Make sure you rest for a few minutes at least once an hour. Get up, have a coffee, go to the toilet, stroll about annoying co-workers. Because even the act of sitting for long periods of time can be bad for your health.

Can a laptop affect your health?

Lots of students have laptops but don’t just use them for studying; they also use them for watching films or downloaded TV. However, Robin says this is worrying for young peoples’ long-term back health.

“It’s a big problem if they’re using laptops to watch a film for two hours, especially if your spine is all twisted in bed and you’re barely moving,” he says.

So what can you do to make your laptop better for you?

  • Try and raise the screen up so you’re not constantly looking down at it, putting pressure on your neck to hold your head.
  • Ensure you have good back support. Ideally you want something supporting all the way up to the backs of your shoulder blades.
  • Try and buy a separate keyboard so you can have the laptop screen higher up and the keys nearer to your belly.
  • If you can, try and watch films and TV on your actual television, making sure you’re sitting right back into the sofa.

Why is good office health so important?

Posture. Boring. We know. And sitting ‘right’ is usually less comfy and more tiring. So why bother?

Well, unfortunately, it will come and kick you is the ass unexpectedly – for example, you could develop Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), back or neck problems.

“Young people are often a bit blasé about their postural health, and then they start a career and suddenly get all these back problems,” says Robin. “Sitting wrong can create problems you don’t notice at first, but then one day, all you need to do is sneeze or something and then you can’t get out of bed.”

Because it’s so important, your employer actually has a legal obligation to ensure your workstation is set up right. If you’ve never had an assessment, then ask for one.

Next Steps

  • Acas offers free advice about everything to do with employment law. 0300 123 1100
  • You can visit NHS Choices for more information. You can get quick advice when it's not an emergency on 111.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.


Updated on 29-Sep-2015