Are you suffering from neck pain from prolonged laptop use?
While laptops have made it very convenient and portable for us to work from anywhere, prolonged usage will result in avoidable ergonomic risks over time.
The non-adjustable nature of the laptop setup means that there will be people who are using it in awkward postures and posittions. These awkward postures will often result in strains and even injuries to our upper limbs and neck.
Therefore, it is important that we do not overlook this easily managed aspect and make the necessary adjustments to ensure that we do not suffer any long term strain or injury.
Convenience and long-term working health can go hand in hand and no one needs to trade off one for the other.
Recap: The Ideal Posture for Desktop Users
So let's recall this part from our earlier blog post on how a good desk posture should look like for a typical desktop screen user.
Laptop Users Vs Desktop Users
The picture below shows us the way that laptop users typically set up their work area. With reference to the ideal posture described above, let us make some comparisons and find out the differences.
Laptop users will generally look downwards at their screens due to the laptop design.
If you recall from above, the optimal height of the screen should be at or just below eye level. This striking difference between desktop and laptop setups causes the typical laptop user to not only look down, and also causes the neck to flex downards to match the line of sight. We will flag this downward neck flexion as our first ergonomic risk for laptop users.
Next, the typical viewing distance from the laptop screen is also much closer as compared to the ideal ergonomic setup. The shortening of the distance occurs as the laptop user tries to bring the keyboard and mouse within comfortable reach, thus comprimising the viewing distance.
While the screen angle can be adjusted to have a better frontal view, it does not make up for the height and distance differences which are the root cause of the problem. The level of ergonomic risks increases for this manner of laptop usage.
The Keyboard & Mouse
With reference to the same picture above, the keyboard and mouse are considered to be too high as compared to the ideal position. It is thus not uncommon to see laptop users leaning forward to compensate for the height of the hands.
Working in a leaning forward position itself flags off another serious ergonomic risk. While leaning forward may take some load off your awkward elevated shoulder stance, this will transfer the strain to the lower back and cause even more discomfort.
With the keyboard positioned just above the touchpad mouse in laptops, users will tend to have a slightly longer reach to the keyboard and this will add on to the strain mentioned above.
The Correct Way to Use Your Laptop
We have flagged out the ergonomic risks in the earlier section,so now let us go into how to fix this issues.
In short, there is really only one objective for fixing the screen, and that is to bring it to eye level. This can be done in various ways:
- Use an external monitor
- Use a laptop stand
- Create your own stand
If you are working in your office or home, it may make sense to invest or request for a desktop monitor as this will also give you a comfortable view. If you are working outside, it may be a better idea to improvize by stacking some books or files to bring up the height. If you have a portable laptop stand, that would work too.
With the latter two options, there will be a need to use an external keyboard and mouse as the height will be far higher than the optimal height and will cause strain if uncorrected.
The Keyboard & Mouse
For frequent and long-term laptop users, we will recommend that you invest in a set of good keyboard mouse to complete the whole optimal ergonomic setup.
Wireless keyboards and mice make good companions for both working in the office and on the road. They provide much flexibility and versatility when it comes to adjusting for an ideal ergonomic position.
The last step to fix after the addition of the keyboard and mouse will be the hand working height. This can easily be done if you are using a height-adjustable chair. If you are working outside and or do not use one that can be adjusted, you may opt for cushions which will temporarily raise the the height.
Carrying Your Laptop
It is often overlooked but we should take note of how we carry our laptops around. If you are using a lightweight laptop, the strain may not feel significant. But if you were to lug a 2kg laptop with accessories around, using a backpack will make sense as the shoulder pads will help to distribute the weight evenly.
However, most people will not opt for a backpack for work (me included) and may choose something more stylish. There is no need to compromise on either form and function, and one can simply opt for a shoulder bag with thick padding. It will be a good practice to swap between shoulders to share the load between the shoulders if you were to carry around for long.