Desk setup to improve posture against neck pain and headache

Having an ergonomic desk setup improves your sitting posture and helps significantly to reduce neck pain and headaches.

A recent study shows that a workplace intervention reduces sickness absence in employees with work-related neck pain and upper extremity disorders such as shoulder pain. Investing in a good workplace might be a cost-saver for homeworkers as well as big companies.

And it’s not too difficult to do it yourself. You don’t need to hire an ergonomic coach to create the perfect desk setup.

Having the right equipment is essential when setting up your desk.

In this post, I’ll show you how to set up your desk ergonomically and what the best desk equipment is for a reasonable price.

I’ll also show you the difference in sitting posture between a good and bad desk setup.

Let’s dive right into why poor sitting posture causes neck pain, and headaches and how changing your posture will change that.

desk chair

Correct desk setup

  1. Your knees should be in a 90 degrees angle
  2. Your knees should be in a 90 degrees angle
  3. Your shoulders should rest loosely on your armrests
  4. Your computer screen should be 2 feet away from your face
  5. Your computer screen should be at the same height as your eyes

How poor sitting posture due to bad desk setup causes neck pain and headache

Imagine this: Your desk and chair are too low, and your computer screen stands too far away from you.

What happens is that you will lean forward to be able to read what’s on your screen. Your head is now in front of your body, and gravity is pulling your head towards the ground.

To withstand the force of gravity, your neck muscles pull your head up so you can keep looking forward. But since your head is massive, this increases the tension in these neck muscles.

The tension causes neck pain or a stiff neck and can also cause a headache. The pain from these muscles can radiate towards your forehead. We call this a tension headache.

The headache can also be a result of the joints in your neck, causing a cervicogenic headache. You typically feel this headache at the back of your head.

On a laptop, it’s even worse. Now you’re also looking down, which increases the tension on your neck muscles.

When you don’t have armrests or armrests at the wrong height, a bad desk setup can also cause shoulder pain. When your arms can’t rest properly, your arm pulls at your shoulder muscles the entire time. I can cause rotator cuff problems and even shoulder impingement.

Finally, a poor desk setup can also cause back pain.

How do I set up my desk to prevent neck pain

To avoid neck pain, back pain, or shoulder pain during your work, you have to set up your desk correctly. To do this, there are five steps you have to take.

I will take you through each step and show you how it prevents pain.

In the picture below, you can see the difference between a good desk setup and a poor desk setup.

desk setup

As you can see, my own desk setup isn’t perfect. My knees aren’t at a 90 degrees angle, and my computer screen isn’t at the right height. Despite that, I’m not experiencing any pain while sitting behind my desk.

That means that there is no one solution. When it works for you, it’s okay.

If you want your desk setup to be perfect, then follow the rules listed below:

  1. Your knees should be in a 90 degrees angle

You have to adjust the height of your chair to the point that your knees make a 90 degrees angle when you sit behind your desk. Your feet have to stay on the ground comfortably as well.

In this position, you have sufficient back support so that you won’t have back pain, even when sitting for an extended period.

It also helps you to sit up straight without effort.

  1. Your shoulders should rest loosely on your armrests

Now that your chair is set up at the right height, you have to adjust your armrests.

Your armrests should be at a height where your forearms rest naturally on the armrests. You should be sitting relaxed with both arms supported. Research shows that sitting with arm support reduced the amount of neck pain and discomfort in computer workers.

It reduces the tension in your shoulders as you don’t have to pull them up all the time. It reduces pain on your shoulders and in your neck. It also reduces the tension in your neck, preventing a stiff neck from to much computer work.

Since there not many chairs with adjustable armrests, I selected one for you that does the job for a reasonable price.

  1. Your desk should be the same height as your armrests

The firth thing you have to do is to adjust the height of your desk to the same height as your armrests. That way, your arm that controls your mouse has full support when working.

It prevents lower arm pain and also shoulder pain.

Having an ergonomic mouse can also help you.

  1. Your computer screen should be 2 feet away from your face

Now that your chair and desk are set up correctly, you have to make sure that your computer screen is at the right position.

When your computer screen is too far away from you, you’ll be leaning forward to read the words on your screen.

It causes your head to be in front of your body. Now gravity will try and pull your head towards the floor. To prevent this, your neck muscles pull on your head to keep it steady.

It causes tension in your neck muscles and compression at the back of your head. This is the leading cause of neck pain and a headache when sitting behind a desk.

Two feet away from you has proven to be the optimal distance, but you can experience which distance works best for you.

  1. Your computer screen should be at the same height as your eyes

The fifth adjustment you have to make is to make sure that your computer screen is at the same height as your eyes. This prevents you from looking down to long.

Looking down also causes a forward head position, including pulling on your neck muscles and a stiff neck as a result.

When you can look in front of you comfortably, your neck muscles remain relaxed, and you won’t have neck pain from your computer work.

When you need to work behind a laptop, you won’t be able to change the height of your computer screen. What I do when I work behind my computer is connecting my laptop to an external screen which I can set up correctly.

I also connect an external keyboard and mouse so that I can work ergonomically while still using a laptop to take with me everywhere.


Setting up your desk correctly to prevent neck pain is easy to do yourself and will have a significant effect on your health and often cure your neck pain.

It’s well worth the investment.

To assist you even better, I’ve also written an entire article on how to treat your neck pain with exercises. It’s complementary to this post and can help you even further.