A desk based job refers to a role where someone spends the majority of their working day sat at a workstation or desk. 

If you have a desk based job please use the advice and guidance in the following sections to help reduce your risk of developing muscle and joint pain in work.  

If you work at a desk, how you set up your workstation can make a difference.

By following this best practice guidance, you can help to manage your muscle and joint pain and stay well in work. 

If you sit at a desk regularly as part of your job, it is worth checking with your employer what your local policy is. You may be asked to complete a local workstation risk assessment to ensure that your desk is set up well.

Desk set up.jpegWorkstation assessment

Desk set up

You can follow the tips below to make sure your desk is set up well:

  1. Make sure you are sitting facing your desk; your screen should be approximately an arm's length away.
  2. Avoid any clutter under your desk so your legs can be under the desk.
  3. Ensure your eye line is level with the top of your monitor.
  4. You should sit right back in your chair and still have a small gap behind your knee with both feet resting comfortably on the floor.
  5. Your hips should be equal to or slightly higher than your knees.
  6. You should have a backrest on your chair that can be adjusted so it moves up and down. The lower back support should be comfortable on you back.
  7. Arms should feel relaxed and forearms should be approximately horizontal.

MSK deskspace image.jpegArranging your desk 

Thinking about rearranging items into areas based on how frequently you use them can be a simple way of reducing your risk of muscle and joint pain.

Regular work area: Try and have items you regularly use in this area, you should be able to reach these items comfortably whilst still sitting back fully in your chair with your elbows relaxed by your side. Your mouse and keyboard should always be in this area. 

Occasional work area: Equipment that you use less regularly should be a little further back but in the area of your desk that you can reach with your back still against the chair but your arms extended.  

Non- working area: In this area equipment that you seldom use, or may need to refer to only once or twice in your working day should be in this area.

When setting up your work station, it can be useful to experiment and try new positions so you find the one most comfortable for you. 


Hot desking 

Hot desking is becoming more common as it allows a greater flexibility for employees and employers. If you move desks regularly or hot desk, you should follow the tips above each time you sit at a new computer. 


Working with a laptop 

Laptops enable us to change our environment and move us away from our desks, but it is important that you stay comfortable while using them.

If you are working for longer than 15 to 20 minutes at a time, you should set yourself up at a desk.

Additional equipment can be helpful if you are using for long periods, for example you may want to consider attaching a regular keyboard and using a laptop stand.   


Working with mobile devices 

A tablet or phone is a helpful portable device to use for short periods of time. However, where you are required to input information or use for any longer than 20 minutes, a static workstation that is set up correctly is the best option. 

Below are some tips to help understand how best to use mobile devices. 

  • Whenever possible try to place the tablet on a surface rather than holding it. 
  • Use a stand or tilt the tablet to ensure the position of your head and neck are in a comfortable whilst reading.
  • Keep your screen clean so the visibility is good. 
  • Use a light touch when typing on the screen it will be more efficient as well as preventing problems. 
  • Remember movement is really important. If you find yourself using the tablet for more than 20 minutes, have a break and change your position. 

Case study

Read Joe's story to find out more about the importance of setting up your workstation well. 


Disclaimer: The content on this page is provided for general information purposes only and is not meant to replace a physiotherapy or medical consultation.

While we may include links to other websites, the Trust is not responsible for the content of any external sites, nor should selection be seen as an endorsement.

Sitting for long periods (being sedentary) is not good for our health however many of us have jobs that require us to sit for large portions of the day.

If you spend a lot of time at your desk, then staying active at your desk is really important. 

The desk-based exercises below are a simple and great way to keep your body moving and help reduce your risk of muscle or joint pain.

Chest stretch.jpegExercise 1 - Chest stretch 

If you spend a lot of time sat at a desk you may find that the muscles in your chest become tight and the muscles around your shoulder blades are underused. 

This simple stretch can help address this:

  • sit forward from the back of your chair
  • point your thumbs to the ceiling and open your arms to the side until you feel a stretch in your chest 
  • gently squeeze the muscles between your shoulder blades whilst keeping your shoulders down, away from your ears
  • hold the stretch for 20 seconds and repeat three times

NOTE: You should not feel any pain or tingling in your arms 


Sit stretch.jpegExercise 2 - Sit stretch

Long periods of sitting with your hips flexed and knees bent can cause the muscle oat the back of your legs (hamstrings) to become tight. 

This simple stretch can help address this:

  • perch on the front of your seat and stretch one leg out in front of you
  • rest your heel on the floor with your toe pointing up 
  • lean slightly forward from your hips and look straight ahead
  • you should feel a gently stretch behind your leg 
  • hold the stretch for 20 seconds and repeat three times
  • repeat this on the following leg

NOTE: you should not feel any pain or tingling in your leg 


Chair twist.jpegExercise 3 - Chair twist 

Nothing can replace getting up from your desk to walk or move around, but if that’s not possible it is a good idea to move your spine to reduce feelings of stiffness.

The following exercise can help with this:

  • sit forward on your chair and cross your arms to touch the opposite shoulder, lifting your elbows as high as your shoulders
  • rotate you head and upper body to the left side, following with your head
  • keep your feet flat on the ground 
  • hold the stretch for 20 seconds and repeat three times
  • repeat on the other side ​

Wall press.jpegExercise 4 - Wall press

Press-ups are a great way to make sure the muscles in your upper body are doing something active during the working day.

These can be done against a wall and still be very effective:

  • start by standing with your feet hip width apart. stretch out your arms and rest your palms at shoulder height and width against the wall 
  • take a couple of small steps away from the wall, tighten up your tummy muscles and slowly lean forward by bending your elbows. keep your spine straight and look at the wall in front of you 
  • lower yourself until you are a couple of inches from the wall, then push yourself up to return to your starting position 
  • make sure you lead with your chest so that your arms are doing all of the work. do not allow your back to arch 
  • aim for three sets of 10 press ups, but you can do more or less depending on how you feel. you can make this harder by moving your feet further away from the wall 

 


Thigh stretch.jpegExercise 5 - Thigh stretch

​Spending too much time sitting at your desk can lead to aches in pain in your knees and back. Stretching the muscles at the front of your thigh (quads) can help reduce this:

  • stand in front of your desk and place your right hand on it for balance 
  • standing on your right leg lift  your left heel up towards your left buttock 
  • use your left hand to hold your left foot. You should feel a stretch at the front of your left tight
  • hold your stretch for 20 seconds and repeat three times
  • repeat the same on the other side  

Moving more throughout the day can help keep your weight at a healthy level and limit your chances of developing a number of serious illnesses.

These exercises are also available to download in our desk based exercises booklet.

For more information, advice and tips for staying active visit our healthy lifestyle advice page.

​It’s a common myth that people need a special chair or other special equipment to help them with joint and muscle pain. While there will be some situations where specialist equipment will help the person, for most people this is not the case. 

We recommend following the advice in our workstation assessment section on this page to ensure your desk is set up correctly as a starting point. 

On this page, you will find information about office equipment and how to ensure your current equipment is suitable.


Equipment

Chairs 

There can often be a misconception that a different chair could help posture and reduce muscle and joint pain. However, the majority of office chairs are suitable for most people. 

Your chair should allow you to achieve a comfortable position, be stable and adjustable in height to enable a comfortable leg position. It should also have an adjustable backrest that moves up and down and tilts.

Desks 

Your desk should give you sufficient leg room underneath and allow for changes in position. The height of your work surface should allow a comfortable position with your arms and shoulders. 

Keyboards 

Your keyboard should be useable and in good working order. It should be able to tilt and allow a comfortable position. The desk should allow space in front of the keyboard to provide support for the hands and arms. 

Mouse

A standard mouse is ok to use with regular breaks and task changes. 


I still feel I may need additional equipment 

If you have followed the information but still feel something about your workstation is affecting your muscle and joint pain, then speak with your employer to help decide if you need any further equipment. 

Access to Work

If you are disabled or have a physical or mental health condition that makes it hard for you to do your job, you should talk to your employer about changes they must make in your workplace. 

If the help you need at work is not covered by your employer making reasonable adjustments, you may be able to get help from Access to Work. 

Access to Work can help with specialist equipment, adaptations or support worker services to help you do things like answer the phone or go to meetings. It could also be help to get to and from work. 

More information can be found at: www.gov.uk/access-to-work 

On this page, you’ll find general advice and tips to help you manage muscle and joint pain and stay well at work.


There’s no such thing as perfect posture

Posture refers to the position that someone holds their muscles and joints in when sitting or standing.

Spending a long time in one positon isn’t good for our muscles and joints. 

There is no such thing as ‘perfect posture’ and it is normal for us all to have variations in our posture.

Therefore, we recommend regularly changing your posture to reduce the risk of developing muscle and joint pain. 


Take regular breaks

The best advice that we can offer for someone who has a desk-based job is to make sure you are taking regular breaks from your desk.  

We recommend that you take short breaks regularly. For example, five to 10 minutes every hour is better than 20 minutes every two hours. 

Try and resist the temptation to eat your lunch at your desk and move to a different environment or try and incorporate a short lunch time walk. 

For most jobs it is possible to stop desk-based work to change tasks, therefore try and plan your day so you can alternate the tasks you are doing. 


Be active during your day

As well as taking regular breaks, you could also try some simple desk based exercises. 

If you do sit at a desk for a long period during your day it is very important to ensure you are staying active. For example, a lunchtime walk has lots of health benefits and is a good idea to increase your activity at work. 

Find out more about why staying active is so important on our healthy lifestyle advice page. 

If you sit at a desk regularly as part of your job, it is worth checking with your employer what your local policy is. You may be asked to complete a local workstation risk assessment to ensure that your desk is set up well. 

You can also follow our advice in the workstation assessment section on this page as a guide to ensuring your desk is set up well.