Ergonomics Wednesday – 2 – Desk Basics


Due to the bat flu crisis and working at home, I got to thinking about ergonomic workspace setup and its relationship to back pain and posture. That led to launching Ergonomics Wednesday here at, with a post on your desk chair.

I said it before but it bears repeating, working from home is different from working at the office and in my efforts to “overcome pain, regain mobility and learn to stand up right,” one of the things I put a fair bit of effort into was the ergonomics of my office working area. Being at home these last 3 months, I’ve had to apply the lessons learned to my home office.

We began with your desk chair, noting that it needs to be the correct height for you. Your desk is the same; it needs to be the correct height for you. Unfortunately, desks are pretty standard, and the vast majority of them have no height adjustment, so what do you do?

Desk Height Adjustment

I suppose you could get an adjustable desk. There are cheap, manual ones for a few hundred dollars, and deluxe motorized ones for thousands, but why spend all that money if you can avoid it? You could also shim your desk’s feet to raise it, I suppose, but why bother?

When sitting at your desk, you want your elbows and wrists straight, forearms horizontal and upper arms vertical while you’re sitting up straight with your shoulders relaxed. Desks have standard heights, but chairs are adjustable, so adjust your chair to meet these conditions.

If you’re a little too short for the standard desk size your knees and legs won’t be properly positioned, which you can address with props for your feet. You can find a full discussion in last week’s post. It is unlikely you will be too tall for the standard desk height, but if you are, and  all else failing, yes, think about getting an adjustable desk.

Desk Location

Location? Yes, location. Where you put your desk is as important as getting your level with respect to it right. If possible, you need to put your desk sideways to your windows, and as far from them as possible. If your home office geometry and location require you either face the windows, or have them directly behind you, invest in a good set of window treatments.


Ambient light. We’re into June now, and for most of the day that ol’ Mr. Sun is pouring light (and heat) down on us. Ideally, you should put your home office on the north side of your house to minimize the sunlight, and the heat, coming in. Ergonomics isn’t just about a good chair, it’s your entire working environment, and being too hot means being uncomfortable, means lowered productivity.

Barring a north facing office, in descending order of preference:

  • Turn your desk sideways to the windows, preferably on the north wall of your office.
  • Put your desk on the wall furthest from the windows.
  • Put your office in an internal room (some natural light is good, it is too much that is bad).
  • Get good curtains/blinds to block as much sunlight as possible.

But again, why is reducing the amount of sunlight important?


If you have sunlight landing directly on your monitor, you will get eyestrain trying to see your monitor. There are monitor shades to help with this, but it’s a whole lot better to avoid the problem in the first place.

You can find a full treatment of eyestrain here. Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version.


  • Sore or irritated eyes
  • Trouble focusing
  • Dry or watery eyes
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Pain in the neck, shoulders, or back

Earned if we didn’t circle all the way back to posture and pain. That list is directly copied from the WebMD link, and they’ve missed one. A big one. Headaches.

For those of us afflicted with stress or cluster headaches, or migraines, eyestrain is a gateway to head pain. As are neck, shoulder and back pain. As is light sensitivity. As are vision problems.

So, to sum up, in order to work efficiently and pain free, to enjoy your work, you need to get your desk properly positioned in your office. There’s more about desks, but we’ll leave that for next week.