Laptops and Notebooks and bears, oh my! The laptop – a Real Health Hazard

By gildalit

ergonomic laptop

ergonomic & laptop

Studies show that prolonged use of a laptop can cause serious orthopedic problems at the shoulders and neck, pain and inflammation of the wrists and back, as well as increasing the risk of testicular cancer and fertility problems (when the computer is placed on the knees – a very common habit).

But wait! Before you dump your laptop into the trash, here are some Do’s and Don’t rules that will enable you to use your laptop and remain healthy.

Updated global data show that about a third of all computer users have a laptop. Laptops may look friendly and inviting, but in fact they have become a first-rate ergonomic hazard. Dalit Ben-Tovim, an ergonomic consultant and trainer, who specializes in creating and adapting working environments for better health and safety, offers a variety of tips for using your laptop safely.

Why is the laptop so damaging?

Structure – The laptop’s structure does not allow for a separate adjustment of the keyboard and screen. As a result, if the screen is adjusted to the desired height – and the recommendation is for the upper limit of the screen to be at eye level – we will find ourselves with the keyboard at a position that is destructive for the hands and wrists. On the other hand, placing the laptop for convenient typing will create strain and damage the eyes and the neck muscles.

Mouse – the integrated mouse or touchpad is another ergonomic nightmare we should be aware of. The posture required when working with a touchpad creates a constant, incremental tension on the hand tendons and in the shoulder, with devastating results.

Posture – prolonged usage of a laptop, coupled with an incorrect sitting posture, with no support of complementary ergonomic accessories, could lead to serious orthopedic problems in the neck and shoulder belt, pain and inflammation of the wrists and back aches. In addition to all the problems mentioned, the infamous warming of the laptops has already been proven to increase the risk of testicular cancer and fertility problems.

Not all is negative. It is possible and even recommended to use a laptop safely, if you adopt the correct habits that will prevent damages.

Tips for casual/infrequent users:
Those who do not use a laptop as a main working tool, but occasionally find themselves using a laptop, would do well to adopt a few rules:

  • Try to find a comfortable chair, one that enables you to lean back comfortably. Remember that the head and the neck are supported by large muscles. You need to protect the hand muscles, which are more sensitive. Place the laptop on your legs, with the hands in a relaxed posture, neither bent nor stretched.
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed.
  • Tilt and adjust the screen to allow for a minimal neck tilt.
  • Use a laptop ventilation tray to prevent heating.
  • Carry as few additional peripherals as possible, keeping the laptop’s weight minimal.
  • Use a backpack with wide shoulder straps to carry the laptop.

Tips for heavy users:

  • Place your laptop on the table so that its upper edge is at your eye level. There are several laptop stands designed specifically for this purpose, try to add a forearm support board.
  • Use an external keyboard and position it directly in front of you, at a convenient height allowing your hands to rest at a neutral posture – neither bent nor stretched.
  • Connect an external mouse and place it at your side at a height that keeps your hand relaxed and at a neutral posture.
  • The keyboard and the mouse can be connected directly to the laptop or through a docking station.
  • Place the screen at a straight arm length away from you. Nevertheless, you should take into consideration the screen size, in order to allow for effortless reading.
  • Minimize any sources of reflected screen glare.

Tips for all users

Besides the mobility and convenience, using laptops carries many health hazards which users are not aware of. We have divided our recommendations into different types of users, but our most important recommendation is: Listen to your body! Pain is a sure sign that you should stop your work to stretch, change your posture, relax and rest your eyes and hands.

Integrate physical activity in your life. An hour of aerobic exercise once a day will work wonders for your painful back and stiff neck.