Thursday, 13 June 2013


A national newspaper last week reported on a study that found  'Badly set up desks and chairs cost companies more than £7 billion a year in sick pay'. I see patients very regularly who are suffering with neck and shoulder pain, headaches, and back pain. Many of them do not remember a single incident which caused these problems. Further questioning will often reveal that they sit at a desk most of the day. Then in the evening they sit on the sofa with a laptop on their lap for another hour or two. Such a lifestyle can be a recipe for problems.

As you may have seen in some guest posts written for this blog by Carys over the past few weeks, we've just invested in a treadmill desk, which we bought from Gym World. Carys uses it for several hours, most days of the week, as she gets on with her writing. She thinks it's great. A big advantage of working at a treadmill desk is that you are not sat still for what sometimes turns out to be hours at a time. Prolonged sitting at a desk can put a lot of stain on the lower back. I don't believe we were designed to sit nearly as much as many of us do.

Our treadmill desk is set up for Carys to use. The desk height is set so that her elbows are almost bent at right angles. This means her wrists rest comfortably on the foam rubber wrist pad on the front edge of the desk while she's typing. We raised the monitor by placing two reams of paper under it so that it is now just slightly lower than her eye-line. A little further adjustment may still be needed. Having the monitor and desk at the correct height is critical as it can significantly reduce the strain on the neck and shoulders, and lower back. Getting these factors (the ergonomics) right is really important.

When I use the desk I have to adjust the height. I need it to be at least two or three settings higher than Carys because I am several inches taller than she is. This can be done by one person, but is more easily accomplished by two people. The desk is sturdy and heavy, so making the adjustment is a bit of a hassle. If I was planning to use the desk more regularly I would be considering upgrading to the desk which has electronic height adjustment. I would strongly recommend this option for anyone planning to use a treadmill desk in an office where it would have several users - a hot-desk.

The above mentioned report also found that 'Half of office workers say they've had no work station risk assessment in the last 12 months'. Employers should perform these assessments so employees need not be afraid to ask for them. There are also some useful self help guides on-line to assist you in setting up your own work station. I like this one produced by Boston University.

Laptops are a very practical computing solution for many due to their portability. They can however pose some real ergonomic problems. On a desk or table top the screen is likely to be too low and when placed on a higher surface the keyboard will probably be too high. When used on the lap, upper body posture is usually horribly rounded. Neck and shoulder pain and associated headaches are common consequences. The use of a laptop stand, an external keyboard and mouse and separate monitor can all help. I like the pointers this video clip provides for various situations in which a laptop may be used. You can also look at the Open Ergonomics illustrations produced by Loughborough University for further detailed set up advice.

Finally, if you're still experiencing pain, get in touch and I'll do my best to help you.

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