Laptops are getting really pervasive. It used to be that laptops were the exclusive tools of the rich, or busy business people. These days, almost everyone owns a laptop.

The problem with a laptop, however, is that it isn’t ergonomic – in fact, most people use their laptops in a way that will cause health problems. I suffered from a stiff neck and backaches before I decided that I needed to completely change the way I use my laptop.

Backache from improper laptop usage

Un-ergonomic Laptops

The design of laptops violates a basic ergonomic requirement for a computer, namely that the keyboard and screen are separated. In the early days of personal computing desktop devices integrated the screen and keyboard into a single unit, and this resulted in widespread complaints of musculoskeletal discomfort.

By the late 1970’s a number of ergonomics design guidelines were written and all called for the separation of screen and keyboard. The reason is simple – with a fixed design, if the keyboard is in an optimal position for the user, the screen isn’t and if the screen is optimal the keyboard isn’t.

Consequently, laptops are excluded from current ergonomic design requirements because none of the designs satisfy this basic need. This means that you need to pay special attention to how you use your laptop because it can cause you problems.

Laptop Posture

Laptops violate basic ergonomic design requirements, so using a laptop is a tradeoff between poor neck/head posture and poor hand/wrist posture.

  • Occasional Users – because the neck/head position is determined by the actions of large muscles, you are better off sacrificing neck posture rather than wrist posture. For occasional use:
    • positioning your laptop in your lap for the most neutral wrist posture that you can achieve
    • find a chair that is comfortable and that you can sit back in
    • angling the laptop screen so that you can see this with the least amount of neck deviation
  • Full-time Users – if you use your laptop at work as your main computer you should:
    • use a separate keyboard and mouse. You should be able to connect a keyboard and mouse directly to the back of the laptop or to a docking station
    • position this on your desk/worksurface in front of you so that you can see the screen without bending your neck. This may require that you elevate the laptop off the desk surface using a stable support surface, such as a computer monitor pedestal
    • use the mouse on an adjustable position mouse platform

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