How To Be Pain Free At Your Desk

Here are 3 key steps to be pain free at your desk.

At Northwest Physiotherapy Group, we frequently see clients that report pain conditions from spending large amounts of time sitting.  Unfortunately, prolonged and poor sitting postures are one of the most common ways for tension to build up in your body. This can feel like tight muscles, stiffness while moving, muscle fatigue, and pain. Optimising your ergonomics and posture are the measures you can take to prevent this build up of tension in the body and remain pain free at work and home.

Here are 3 key steps to be pain free at your desk.

Step 1: Correct Your Ergonomic Setup

The first step is to have the correct ergonomic set up of your chair, desk, and computer to minimise strain on your body.  For further details read the 10 steps to set up your own ergonomic workstation

Ideally you want to aim for a neutral position for both the shoulder and spine. Here are some cues to help with this:

  • Head and Neck: Elongate neck so you are feeling tall with your chin tucked in slightly
  • Shoulders: Gently squeezing shoulder blades back to set your shoulders
  • Lower Back: Maintain a slight and relaxed curve in your low back

See below for examples of good sitting posture:

See below for common examples of poor postures that often contribute to pain and discomfort:


Once you have optimised the ergonomic set up of your desk, chair, and computer, the next step is to adjust your body as you sit by finding the best posture for you.

Step 2: Find Your Ideal Posture

The ideal posture is different for everyone, individual to your unique body shape – the natural curve of your spine, your muscle bulk, the length of your limbs, etc. So how do you find the right position for you? When we assess your posture in the clinic, we look for the position where your spine and shoulder are in neutral, this being the position where the muscles in your neck, back, and shoulder are most relaxed. You can assess this yourself at home by using your fingers to feel the tension in your muscles.


Muscle tone is the texture or nature of tension in the muscle at rest. A happy muscle is soft and “floppy” at rest; the muscle will give under finger pressure, much like a raw steak. 

An unhappy muscle is tight, even at rest. It will feel like a rope or a knot, will not give under finger pressure (like an overcooked steak) and is likely to be tender to touch. It indicates that the muscle is under constant tension or in a protective/reactive state, which when it remains that way for a long time, leads to pain and injury. Not only that, but tension and ‘knots’ reduce optimal function and lead to a feeling of weakness or fatigue. Reducing muscle tension is the first step to better function and feeling pain-free.

So what are the key muscles to check whilst sitting at your desk?


To help guide you into the optimal posture with the use of muscle tone/tension, watch the following video demos:

Step 3: Pacing

While correct ergonomic setup and posture help prevent the build-up of strain and tension, pacing is equally important.  Even when we are sitting in the correct position, with the ideal posture, if we sit for too long we can still end up painful and sore at the end of the day. Our bodies were not made to be stationary for hours on end. Regular movement throughout your working day is extremely important to help prevent accumulative muscle tension and joint strain.

Short frequent breaks are more effective than longer breaks taken less often – ideally stand up and move for at least a few minutes every 30 minutes. Use this time to take a toilet break, get a drink of water, or do a few stretches.

If using a sit-stand desk, it is recommended to alternate working in sitting and standing regularly – a good rule of thumb is 20 minutes of standing every hour, although this may vary for individual circumstances. Be guided by how comfortable you feel first and foremost!

If you are still finding it difficult to find the correct posture and reduce your muscle tension while working, this may indicate a muscle imbalance throughout your body that needs to be addressed. We can help you, either in-rooms or via a telehealth video consult. Contact us at Northwest Physiotherapy Group on 9370 5654 or book in online.

Helping You and Your Community

These problems are common not just in individuals, but across workplaces and communities as well. We want to help you and the people around you. We can do this by providing further training about how to put the strategies we’ve discussed above into practice in your workplace or community.  The following options are available:

  1. Half hour presentation:  to provide an overview of these 3 key steps.
  2. Group training (maximum 10 people):  Provides further insight and education to staff to apply all the principles effectively
  3. Train the trainer: We can provide more in-depth training to key personnel who will be involved in training other staff in these concepts.

Please contact us on 9370 5654 if you would like to discuss these options further and how we can best assist your workplace.