How to Avoid Desk-Related Back Pain

Spending hours seated at a desk can take a toll on your back, neck, and shoulders. If your job requires you to sit for long periods of time, read on for tips and tricks on how to keep your back healthy.

5 min read

Working at a desk doesn’t have to be painful

Sitting at a desk (or worse – hunching over one) could have a negative impact  on your body, especially your back. Our bodies are meant to move, and the simple act of sitting for too long can put pressure on your spine and increase tightness in your back muscles, causing aches and pains that can quickly develop into chronic musculoskeletal conditions. This can get compounded by sitting with poor posture or not having an ergonomic desk setup ²,³.

In severe cases, back pain caused by long hours sitting at a desk can lead to missing out on work. Believe it or not, back pain alone is responsible for over 264 million lost workdays each year¹. When not managed properly, back pain can even start to get in the way of your weekends, keeping you from enjoying your favorite activities or socializing with friends. The good news is, you don’t have to take desk-related back pain sitting down…there is a lot you can do to get ahead of it.

How to prevent back pain from sitting at a desk

Here are a few tips on how you can set up your workspace to prevent desk-induced back pain.

Stand up and move around

Switching to a standing desk can be a game changer for your body. Even if you don’t have one, try to stand up and stretch your legs or take a quick walk every hour. Take a walk around the block or even around your office space for a couple of minutes. Small actions like this are a good way to bring more movement into your everyday life.

Take stretch breaks 

Taking a few minutes to stretch during your workday isn’t just refreshing—it’s crucial for keeping back pain at bay. Simple stretches, like reaching for the sky or doing some gentle twists, can keep your spine happy and your mind focused.

Here are a few stretches to get you started.

Practice mindfulness and mediation

Ever tried meditating at your desk? Just a few minutes of deep breathing and mindfulness each day can significantly ease that back pain triggered by sitting too long. It’s about giving your mind a break, which can help relax those tense back muscles. A calm mind often means a calm back. It also gives you a chance to get in tune with your body and correct bad posture throughout your workday.

Did you know that regularly practicing gratitude can actually improve your sense of well-being and lower levels of pain?

Taking a few minutes to stretch during your workday isn't just refreshing—it's crucial for keeping back pain at bay.

Desk design for back health

Besides cutting down on sitting time, ramping up daily movement, and managing stress, another way to a happier body is making your desk area more ergonomic. Here are some tips for a better working environment⁴:

Desk: Keep in mind that the height of your desk should allow your arms to comfortably rest on it with your elbows at a 90-degree angle. If you have a standing desk, adjust it so that you can maintain this elbow angle whether standing or sitting.  And keep your keyboard, mouse, and phone within easy reach to avoid excessive stretching. This can cause muscle strain in your shoulder, arm, and neck leading to discomfort and, over time, repetitive strain injuries.

Chair: First, choose an adjustable chair to enhance your seating ergonomics. Position your chair so your work surface aligns with your elbows, ensuring your knees are level with your hips. And remember, the back of the chair should support your lower back and promote a slight forward posture, helping maintain the natural curve of your spine.

Computer: Have the center of your computer at eye level. You want to make sure that your computer isn’t below eye level, which forces you to lower your head and strain your neck to look at your computer. Pro tip: This is where old, heavy textbooks come in handy to stack under your computer to raise it to eye level!

A checklist to get you started!

Working at your desk doesn’t need to hurt. There are lots of ways to prevent and/or lessen pain, whether it’s in your back, neck, shoulders, arms, or legs. To recap, we put together a short checklist for you:

  1. Make sure to avoid sitting for long periods of time
  2. Remember to move your body regularly every day, even if it’s just to take a walk around the block for a few minutes
  3. Take the driver’s seat with stress by practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques daily
  4. Make sure your desk, chair, and computer are adjusted ergonomically so you feel comfortable and alert when you work

For more tips on how to reduce stress and desk-related back pain, visit


1. United States Bone and Joint Initiative. The Hidden Impact of Musculoskeletal Disorders on Americans. Published 2018. Accessed April 27, 2020.
2. Mayo Clinic. Back pain at work: preventing pain and injury. Mayo Clinic website. Published May 22, 2019. Accessed April 27, 2020.
3. National Institutes of Health. Low back pain fact sheet. National Institutes of Health website. Published March 2020. Accessed April 15, 2020.
4. Fellowes. Meet Emma our work colleague of the future. Fellowes website. Accessed April 27, 2020.
5. Kopec JA, Sayre EC, Esdaile JM. Predictors of back pain in a general population cohort. Spine. 2004;29(1):70-78.
6. Yang H, Haldeman S, Lu ML, Baker D. Low back pain prevalence and related workplace psychosocial risk factors: a study using data from the 2010 National Health Interview Survey. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2016;39(7):459-472.
7. Lambeek LC, van Mechelen W, Knol DL, Loisel P, Anema JR. Randomised controlled trial of integrated care to reduce disability from chronic low back pain in working and private life. BMJ. 2010;340:c1035.
8. Triano J. Office chair, posture, and driving ergonomics. SPINE-health website. Updated September 26, 2006. Accessed April 27, 2020.

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