how to sit at a computer, both children and adults

Knowing how to sit at a computer prevents back pain developing. The posture of a computer-user is that of head and neck forward, face peering into the screen, and the thoracic spine deeply crumpled. Holding of the arms aloft with the fingers hovering above the keys is another issue, with strain taken through the cross-bar of the shoulders. You can spend hours like this, hardly moving a whisker.

Apart from redesigning computers and restricting their hours of use, there are  a few hard and fast rules about the ergonomic setup which are important.

In addition, there is one particular yoga stretch - the right-angled stretch - see Point 10 below- which should be done at the end of each computer session.

This is the ideal sitting posture, with a pillow the small of your back


  • Have the screen and keyboard straight in front, never to the side
  • The screen must be positioned at your correct focal length so that your eyes can focus easily. You should never accept anyone else's setting. All members of the family may need to position the screen differently

  • Swap hands in using the mouse on alternate days. It is very useful for children to become ambidextrous in this way

  • If you are a touch typist the top of the screen should be just below eye-line. Any higher requires too much effort of the back of your neck to tilt your head back. The poorer the typing skills the lower the screen should be, although you may need to tilt the screen back so you don't have to scrunch down bodily to see it

  • Keyboards are better flat or even held in the lap and tilted away from you (that is, not on the desk and tilted up at the back). This requires less cocking back of the wrists to keep the fingers clear

  • Used on the desk, the keyboard should be such that your elbows are below 90 degrees when your fingertips are poised above the keys. Any higher and your elbows will be working in inner range, which is bad for them. A keyboard too high also places greatly added load on your shoulder-girdle to hoist your arms up higher

  • Ergonomic chairs should have the back support positioned close in behind the back and the chair as close as possible to the desk. If the chair is too far away you will lose the benefits of the contoured padding as you lean forward to the screen. (This is a common failing of ergonomic chairs)

  • The chair seat should be angled down a few degrees at the front. This encourages the lower back to maintain a better lumbar hollow (lumbar lordosis) which helps prevent the whole spine slumping in a crumpled 'C' shape

  • Large inflatable plastic fit balls are ideal seating for computers, especially for children. Apart from the joyous bouncing romp that eliminates the static compression of the spinal base, the lack of back support means you must recruit your own tummy strength to keep upright. Thus they encourage proper spinal alignment and are ideal for young bodies learning the subliminal cues of postural awareness. They are a fraction of the price of ergonomic chairs and I'm convinced every household needs one

  • Do the right-angled stretch at the end of each computer session. It undoes the hunched sitting posture and opens out the pinched-in birds' wings arms to full stretch

Remember that growing children may need to adjust the screen higher every six months or so.   Learning how to sit at a computer as a child helps avoid spinal problems later on

The 'right-angled wall stretch' is one of the most effective ways to undo the ill-effects of sitting at a computer. To do it, you sit close to an uncluttered space of wall and easing your bottom sideways to the wall, swing your legs up the wall as you let your upper body down and turn onto your back on the floor.

Keeping your legs straight at the knees and your heels pushed towards the ceiling, take your arms over your head and interlace your fingers, turning the palms away. With your elbows straight, hold this position for 45 seconds, breathing slowly. To come out, take your hands down to your hips to relax and let your legs bend on the wall to relax for 10 seconds.  Repeat 3 times.

For a more pro-active stretch to undo hours of sitting stooped over a computer, you may only get relief from pain by using a BackBlock under your upper back.

See here How to Use the BackBlock for Upper Back Pain

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Sketch of man holding lower back in pain with product relief information using exercise

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