Muscle or joint problems from computer work

Muscle and joint problems can be caused or made worse due to your work station set up. Please ensure you have completed a DSE assessmentDSE assessmentDSE assessment to highlight any issues that may need special equipment. 


Sedentary work at a computer increases the risk of problems in the neck and shoulders, as well as the hands, wrists, arms and elbows. Early symptoms such as niggling dull aches or discomfort are initially relieved following short breaks from work. However, if these are ignored, the discomfort may become more persistent despite rest and be accompanied by other symptoms like:

  • tenderness or burning sensation
  • shooting pains, often from the wrist into the elbow
  • numbness or tingling
  • pins and needles
  • painful or reduced grip
  • swelling
  • muscle spasms

The onset of symptoms may occur when you’re feeling particularly pressured or stressed, whether from personal anxieties or work concerns.

Headaches and migraines can also be triggered by tension in muscles as the result of psychological pressures. You may notice problems:

  • following a return to work after a long break
  • after periods of intensive keyboard or mouse work
  • when you’re under pressure to complete work to tight deadlines
  • when your posture is not correct
  • when you don’t take frequent screen breaks


Keyboard workers are particularly vulnerable to muscular pains or problems with joints and tendons because of the prolonged static muscular effort required to support upper limbs in fixed or awkward postures during keyboard and mouse use. Key factors known to increase the risk of muscle and joint problems are:

  • poor sitting posture
  • keying or using the mouse with arms/elbows extended forward
  • working too long without breaks
  • poor typing technique
  • feeling pressured and tense

Actions to take

Awareness of your posture at work is essential so that you can identify changes that should be made to reduce the risk of problems from your work at the computer.

Adjust your chair

Every day before starting work, but also throughout the day, ensure your chair is adjusted to support upright posture, allowing your back, shoulder and neck muscles to relax whilst sitting static.

Sitting posture

  • Use the chair for support, not the desk - sit well back into your chair; adjust the height of the chair back to fit into the small of your back, low enough to support your pelvis in a forward tilt.
  • Let the chair take the strain - use the tilt adjustment to recline the back support sufficiently to allow your back and neck muscles to relax, whilst maintaining an upright posture.
  • Sit tall - with your head balanced squarely on your shoulders, keep your shoulders relaxed and elbows tucked close by your sides.

Typing posture

  • Raise the height of your chair so your elbows are above the desk level.
  • Use a footrest if your heels are now not touching the floor.
  • Sit close to the desk, keep your elbows tucked in at your sides when typing or using the mouse. Ensure your upper arms are free to hang vertically down from your shoulders.
  • If the arms on your chair prevent this, use a chair without arms or see if the arms can be safely removed.
  • Lift your wrists to type, keeping your hands in alignment with your arms. Only rest your wrists on the edge of the desk when not typing or better still, relax your arms by your sides or do stretching exercises.

Reposition equipment

Make sure you’ve adjusted your chair to support an upright but relaxed posture, then position your display screen equipment so you can maintain a correct posture whilst working.

If you use a laptop for more than an hour at a time always use an additional keyboard and mouse, which will ensure you can maintain the correct posture for keyboard/screen work.

Keyboard and mouse

Relax against the chair back, keep your elbows close to your sides and draw your chair close to the desk. Bring your keyboard and mouse close to the desk edge, leaving sufficient space to rest your wrists when not typing.

If you need to look at your fingers to type, avoid dropping your head forward. Instead remain upright, using your chair for support, pull your chin in and lower your eyes (not your head) to view your keyboard.

Lift your wrists to type, keeping them straight, not flexed back. A wrist support should only be used when at rest.

Reduce mouse use by using keyboard shortcuts instead. When using the mouse be careful to hold it lightly with a relaxed hand when in use. When not operating the mouse, release your hold and relax your arm or do some stretching exercises.

Computer screen

Position the screen (or if using multiple screens, your main screen) straight in front of you. You should not view the screen with your neck twisted to one side. Maintain the correct sitting and typing posture and position your screen so you can view it with relaxed eyes, looking down as you would for comfortable reading. The top of the screen should be no higher than your eyebrows, to reduce visual fatigue and the risk of neck problems.

A comfortable viewing distance is generally 50-60cm (20-24"), but this is determined by your vision and whether you wear glasses. Single focus lenses are preferable for screen use. Varifocals are not recommended as they can cause neck problems. If you do wear varifocals, make sure your screen is positioned so that you do not need to extend your neck to get the screen in focus.

Workstation environment

To avoid uncomfortable glare (from bright sunlight) or reflection (mirror image of window/reflected sunlight) when viewing your screen, ensure you do not face into, or have your back to, a window. Position your computer workstation away from the window, if at all possible, and at right angles to it, to reduce the risk of these problems.

Work smart - take a break

Long periods of uninterrupted keyboard/screen work greatly increase the risk of muscular problems and pain as a result of remaining static whilst muscles are tense. Frequent short breaks from your screen are better than longer infrequent ones. Plan your day to break up longer spells at your keyboard with other varied tasks.

Do not:

  • sit static at your computer for longer than an hour without changing your posture, or taking some exercise away from your screen
  • hold on to your mouse unless you are actively using it; let go and allow your arm/hand to relax between use
  • reach forward to lean your arms on your desk; instead rest back against your chair for support
  • put up with pain or discomfort. Seek help immediately to identify the posture and work factors putting you at risk


  • adjust your chair daily, ensuring an upright posture with support in your lower back
  • reduce mouse use and instead learn to use keyboard shortcuts
  • plan your work, so you have reason to change your posture or do a different task every 50-60 minutes
  • look for opportunities to stand up, arch your back and stretch your spine, or go for a short walk to get your circulation going
  • create mini-breaks from typing/mouse work by doing seated stretching exercises

If you have followed all of the above advice but continue to experience problems, you should contact your DSE facilitator and arrange a workstation assessment without further delay.

Keying technique

Become keyboard competent by learning to touch-type. This will reduce the risk of health problems because:

  • you’ll look at the screen instead of at your hands - reducing the risk of neck tension
  • you’ll use all your fingers to type and are more likely to have a light touch on the keys - reducing muscle tension in your dominant hand and forefingers
  • you’ll work more efficiently and spend less time correcting errors - which will help reduce pressure and increase job satisfaction

Working under pressure

Studies have shown that psychological risk factors are of equal importance to physical risk factors in influencing health, in particular musculoskeletal health. Feeling pressured or stressed increases the risk of physical tension and discomfort. Coping with particularly stressful demands, whether at work or at home, can influence behaviour which may increase the risk of health problems. For example, an individual may forego rest breaks in an effort to cope with high workload or tight deadlines.

Here are some questions you may need to consider and discuss with your manager to manage work pressure appropriately.

  • Are there ways of pacing your work better - to introduce more control over your work rate?
  • Does your system of work encourage you to skip meal breaks to finish earlier or keep on top of the workload?
  • Have you sufficient training and information in order to complete your work successfully?
  • Do you feel there is support from supervisors/managers and colleagues?
  • Do you work overtime that is unplanned, unmonitored and/or not organised?
  • Do tasks require high levels of attention and concentration?
  • Do you have any control over the way you work?
  • Are there frequent tight deadlines to meet?
  • Are there sudden, or seasonal, changes in workload or volume without the mechanism to deal with the change?
  • Do you have existing health problems you find difficult to manage at work?

Workstation assessments

If you are still experiencing problems after following the above information regarding correct workstation set up, you should contact your department's DSE facilitator so they can assess your workstation.

If the problem is not resolved, you should contact Health and Safety to request a further workstation assessment. Following the outcome of their assessment, the Health and Safety Adviser may advise an Occupational Health referral.

Whenever there are substantial changes to your workstation you should review your DSE assessment and follow the advice on this page above if you experience any problems.


If you have a health concern that you think is caused or made worse by your work, you should seek help straight away. In the first instance, you should aim to discuss any issues with your manager and agree how to remedy the problem. If you can’t talk to your direct manager, then your head of department or link Employee Relations adviser can also advise you. 

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