Laptop Ergonomics

Laptop computers and portable technology have changed the way we do business. With portable equipment, we are now able to work away from our primary office in a temporary or more comfortable location. We now have the luxury of working in a secondary or off-site office, while traveling, from the comfort of our home, and while lounging on the couch. However, in spite of their many benefits, portable computers, by their nature, increase the risk of developing repetitive strain injuries.

  • The keyboard and screen are attached in one unit. Because they are unable to be adjusted independently, an ergonomic compromise is created on positioning and comfort of either the neck or the arm.
  • Laptops are often used in cramped spaces compromising posture.
  • Laptop keys are smaller than traditional, desk-top keyboards causing the potential for increased hand and finger strain.
  • Laptop screens are typically smaller than standard causing potential eye strain.
  • It is harder to adjust the laptop screen to reduce glare.
  • Portable equipment is heavy to carry.

These shortfalls create the risk for pain, aching and muscular fatigue in the neck, shoulders, back, elbows, wrists and hands. They also create the potential for eye strain, headaches, numbness and tingling in the arms.

Putting these simple ergonomic adjustments into practice can help you reduce the risk of developing injuries while working on your laptop.

  • Stretch often.
  • Be aware of posture.
  • Take frequent breaks, every 20-30 minutes if possible.
  • Change your position often.
  • Switch the laptop position from the lap to the table every 30 minutes.
    • Putting the laptop in your lap will relax your shoulders.
    • Putting it on the table will relax the neck and reduce eyestrain.
  • Limit the peripherals you carry to the bare essentials to reduce the weight you carry.
  • Use a carrier with padded straps and frequently change the shoulder that the bag is carried on; or use a backpack with both straps over the shoulders to distribute the weight; better still, use a carrier with wheels.
  • Follow standard ergonomic positioning for a keyboard as closely as possible.
    • Keep the wrists neutral.
    • Keep the elbows open to 90 degrees or slightly greater.
    • The ears, shoulders and elbows should be in vertical alignment.
    • The shoulders should be relaxed. Do not round shoulders forward or hunch them up towards the ears.
    • The head and neck should be relaxed. Do not let head drop forward out of alignment with shoulders.
  • Use proper finger positioning, typing & mousing techniques.
    • Use two hands for 2-key functions.
    • Use the stronger fingers (modified hunt and peck) rather than stretching the fingers to reach for keys.
    • Keep the fingers relaxed.
    • Use a light touch while typing.
    • Movements should come from the larger shoulder muscles. Do not isolate the smaller wrist and hand muscles while typing by planting the wrists down.
  • Prevent eye-strain and headaches.
      • Frequently look away from the screen and look at an object far in the distance. Follow the 30-30-30 rule.
        • rest the eyes for 30 seconds
        • by looking 30 feet away
        • for every 30 minutes of typing
    • Rub your hands briskly together until warmth is created and then place your warm palms over closed eyes. Hold the position for 20 seconds.
    • Frequently clean the screen using the appropriate antistatic cleaners.
    • Adjust font for color, contrast and size so that reading the screen is comfortable.

If you use the laptop as your primary computer, it is especially important to be aware of your positioning.

  • When you are in your office or primary work environment, elevate the laptop using monitor risers so that the screen in an optimal position and you do not need to bend your neck when looking at the screen; then, connect a separate keyboard and mouse at elbow level to position the arms appropriately.
  • When sitting in a chair without elbow supports or a couch, use pillows to support the arms whenever possible. Keep the same general ergonomic positioning guidelines in mind even if you are in a relaxed work environment.

The following exercises will help you stay flexible and keep you pain-free.

  • Stretch the thumb by gently pulling it back. Hold for 20 seconds.
  • Stretch the palm up. Hold for 20 seconds.
  • Perform basic forearm stretches.
    • Place your hand out in front of you as if you are saying “stop” and pull the fingers gently back with the other hand. Hold for 20 seconds.
    • Now let gravity drop the wrist down and gently increase the stretch by pulling with the other hand. Hold for 20 seconds.
  • Stretch the triceps and biceps.
  • Perform shoulder and neck stretches.
  • Stretch the back.
    • Gently interlace the fingers behind the neck and arch your upper back as if you are trying to look up at the ceiling (be careful not to pull the head forward). Hold for 20 seconds.
    • Place your hands on your hips and arch the lower back as if you are trying to look up at the ceiling. Hold for 20 seconds.
  • Perform 15-20 minutes of daily cardio activity to improve circulation and oxygen flow to the arms for improved conditioning and better healing.
  • Perform core strengthening exercises to improve general postural stability.
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