Last week I spent a day conducting ergonomic assessments in a large legal firm office and noticed an unusual trend amongst most of the staff members that were working there – they all had a tendency to have their monitor set too high, and I don’t mean just a little bit too high but quite a lot high. So this lead me into quite a few discussions about what is the correct height to have the monitor set at and today I thought I would put some of my recommendations down in writing to share a bit more broadly.
When you do a search on the Internet you tend to come up with the standard recommendation that the top of the monitor should be set at eye level or just slightly below, and in general I believe that this is an excellent starting point however it may not be the preferred location for everybody as many factors can have an influence on where people feel comfortable working and reading from. Individualisation is where it is at.
As a Physiotherapist my recommendation would be to have the monitor adjusted so that an individual can work comfortably from the screen whilst maintaining a relaxed upright posture, whether seated or standing, that preserves the natural curves of the spine, particularly in the cervical region. What I generally advise my clients is that you need to picture the spine like a series of building blocks stacked neatly on one another – when the natural curves are maintained these blocks hold their position without any excessive input required from soft tissues or muscles and therefore the strain on the body is potentially at its lowest. Conversely, if the position of the spine is changed then you are likely to be applying forces or requiring muscular effort to maintain that position, and over time this can lead to increased discomfort and even injury.
So if the monitor is positioned too high then you may have a tendency to look upward to view it and this will result in an extension of the upper cervical spine segments achieved through activation of the small muscles that then must hold that position for extended time periods. Being small muscles they tend not to cope too well with this and will become painful.
Conversely, if the monitor is positioned too low then you will sit with a forward tilted head posture and this will require muscles to counteract the weight of your head to hold that position, again resulting in fatigue and likely discomfort.
So opting for a monitor height where the top of the screen is approximately at eye level should allow you to maintain the natural curves in your cervical spine and position your work where your vision is optimised – scanning of the screen will be achieved through the eyes rather than movement of the head and over time this places a significantly lower physiological demand on the body.
With large modern monitor screens taking up less ‘floor’ space on the desktop and providing a large viewing area, you can afford to have the monitor set a reasonable distance from you without needing to lean forward and strain to view the text or images on it. I would recommend starting at no closer than an arms reach away, opting for a final position of comfort that works with your desktop organisation.
If you work off two screens then consider whether these should be positioned centralised (i.e. when you work off both screens equally), or whether one screen should be placed more directly in front of you and the auxiliary screen off to the side.
These days there are many cost-effective options to enable you to place your monitor screen in the optimum position. Not all monitor stands have a height adjustment built-in however you can purchase a variety of monitor risers to help you achieve the correct height. Alternatively, a monitor arm arrangement may work better in enabling you to place one or two monitors in the best position to help you achieve your work whilst freeing up additional desk space between them and the keyboard.
My recommendation is to listen to your body and if you are aware of any discomfort in your neck or shoulders then try to understand the position that you are working in and assess whether your monitor placement may need to be adjusted as per the recommendations above. If you continue to experience issues, or do not feel confident in making this adjustment yourself, then seek professional guidance.