By Jana Zuidema (BSc Physio)
Laptops are a great invention for today’s fast paced business world. You can work whenever, wherever. They are fast replacing the traditional desktop. But this convenience may not be so kind to your physical body, as laptop designs do not encourage good ergonomic sitting postures. Their inherent problem is that the screen and keyboard are attached, which is in total contrast to the basic ergonomic ability of a desktop, i.e. a separate screen and keyboard in order to achieve the correct heights.
What is good about laptops?
What is bad about laptops?
- Screen size – often too small which results in strain on the eyes. It also may cause you to slouch toward the screen to read resulting in neck and back pain
- Screen is too low if the keyboard position is correct – causing strain on the neck and shoulders as one has to slouch down to see the screen, which can lead to shoulder pain and neck pain
- If the screen is at the correct height (i.e. top of the screen eye level) then the keyboard will be too high resulting in upper shoulder tension
- Touchpad or trackballs – these put a lot of strain on the wrist and forearm muscles due to the small repetitive movements. They also are often in the centre of the keyboard as opposed to the side allowing a neutral arm position.
- Keyboard spacing – often the keys are close together, again placing strain on the wrist muscles
Tips for an ergonomic laptop set-up:
- Ideal: Use a docking station and have a separate keyboard, screen and mouse. This allows you to set yourself up in the most ideal ergonomic position (see our article on optimal workstation set-up)
- Second best: Use a separate keyboard and mouse. This allows you to raise the height of the screen so that the top of the screen is eye level. You can achieve this by placing the laptop on a monitor raiser (for e.g. the Handy monitor raiser). The separate mouse avoids the need to use the touchpad, thus keeping the wrist in a neutral position and supported.
- Third best: Use an ergonomic laptop stand. This raises the screen slightly and angles the keyboard slightly which is more ergonomically correct, thus places less strain on your wrists. This is also a good solution when hot desking, travelling or using your laptop away from your usual workstation. The laptop stands can be used on any desk or table. Have a look at our newly launched Ergoprop laptop stands: It also allows better functioning of the laptop by allowing circulation of air.
- General tips:
- Always have the laptop directly in front of you, with your elbows supported at 90 degrees, either by your desk or the armrests of your chair
- Sit in a good ergonomic chair that allows you to recline slightly back of neutral, thus preventing your from stooping forward to see the screen of the laptop
- Tilt the laptop screen slightly backwards, this will reduce glare on the screen and allows you to keep your head and neck back, thus not causing undue neck pain
- Keep the screen at arm’s length away from your eyes, again avoiding slouching forward and reaching for the keyboard
- Take regular breaks from the laptop every 20-30 minutes.
- If you have no other option but to use the laptop in the full sense of the word (i.e. on your lap), then place the laptop on your laptop bag or a cushion (NOT directly on your lap – the heat a laptop generates can cause an injury). Support your arms with pillows under the elbows. This allows the weight of your neck and shoulders to be taken up by the pillows and not your neck and shoulder muscles. This is the best you can do in a non-ideal situation, but it is not ideal for your body.
Laptops do not make for a good ergonomic workstation set-up. They are not even that ergonomically ideal on your lap. But that is not why we use them. With a little commitment and a few accessories, you can set up your laptop as ergonomically as a desktop.