The three most common office setup errors to avoid

End Back & Neck Pain Book Cover

Nagging pains in the neck, shoulder, and upper back leave many running to the doctor, but a simple office makeover could be the remedy. “Given today’s high-tech, computer-dominant world, in which sitting for prolonged periods at work is often followed by sitting for prolonged periods at home, the setup of your computer workstation can play a large factor in your ability to stay symptom free,” says Vincent Fortanasce, DPT, one of the top-ranked neurologists in the United States. In his upcoming book, End Back & Neck Pain (Human Kinetics, September 2011), Fortanasce and coauthors David Gutkind and Robert Watkins, MD, break down the three most common workstation trends that predictably lead to neck, midback, arm, or leg symptoms.

    1. Overreaching
      Reach refers to the horizontal axis that is parallel to the floor. Common diagnoses associated with overreaching at a computer workstation include shoulder tendinitis, impingement, tennis elbow, and muscle spasm and tightness in the neck and midback. Overreaching occurs because of the position of items on the desktop such as a keyboard or mouse, phones, documents, and other desk items. “It is a common finding when a mouse and keyboard are positioned on the same surface, when the armrests on the chair do not lower to fit beneath the desktop, or when the arrangement of items on the desk is not appropriate,” Fortanasce explains. Most problems with overreaching are easily correctable. Rearranging the desktop or purchasing inexpensive products can solve many of these setup concerns.

      Assess your workstation:

      • *Are the keyboard and mouse on the same surface?
      • *Are commonly used items such as the keyboard or phone closest to you?
      • *Does the chair fit you? Is the seat pan too deep or backrest not adjustable?


    1. Use of Incorrect Heights
      Height refers to the vertical axis that is perpendicular to the floor. Common diagnoses associated with the use of incorrect heights include nerve compression syndromes (most often at the wrist) and neck compression problems, including stenosis and facet joint dysfunctions. Incorrect height occurs as a result of the positioning of the chair, including the armrests, seat back, seat pan, desktop where work is placed, monitor, and the surface holding the keyboard and mouse. Incorrect height may also refer to furniture and features of the work area that are not adjustable. “Incorrect heights are more difficult to correct than the other two ergonomic culprits,” Fortanasce explains. “But, a proper chair is of critical importance.”

      Assess your workstation:

      • *Is the chair adjustable (the seat pan, backrest, and armrests)?
      • *Is your workstation one continuous piece at the same height, or are there pieces with sections to accommodate various tasks (typing, writing, reading)?
      • *Is the top line of the text as displayed on the monitor at eye level?


    1. Unbalanced Work Area
      An unbalanced work area refers to the transverse, or rotational, axis. Common diagnoses associated with an unbalanced work area include neural compression syndromes, overuse and repetitive motion syndromes at the shoulder and elbow, and neck compression syndrome. An unbalanced work area refers to the position of the items on your desktop. “About 87 percent of the population is right-handed, and issues arise when the right hand is used for all the desktop activities, resulting in pain in the right shoulder, neck, and elbow,” says Fortanasce. Off-center monitors can also pose a problem and should be placed central in the line of view.

      Assess your workstation:

      • Are the majority of desktop items off to the same side?
      • Is your monitor centered on your desk, directly in line with your direction of view?
      • Do you have commonly used items closest to you and reference items farthest from you?

“People need to understand that symptoms occur over time as a result of repeated exposure,” says Fortanasce. “Analyzing your work area for the three most common setup errors can help you make improvements and ease unwanted muscle pain.”

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