laptop ergoErgonomic Tips for Laptops

“As technology increases in the age of the computer, we must make every effort to insure that the structure of the human body does not deteriorate in the process.” Dr. Tom Ravin M.D., President of the American Academy Of Musculo-Skeletal Medicine.

While laptops provide mobility, it comes at the price of adjustability.   Below are some guidelines for ergonomics for laptops for full time and mobile users.

Full-time Users: If you use your laptop at work as your main computer you should: 

·         Position the laptop on your desk/work surface 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.  Maintaining neutral postures will reduce stress and strain to the musculoskeletal system.

·         Use a separate keyboard, monitor and mouse. You should be able to connect a keyboard and mouse directly to the back of the laptop or to a docking station.

·         Use the keyboard on a negative tilt (front of the keyboard should be higher or the same as the back) to ensure a neutral wrist posture.

·         Avoid resting on the wrist rest areas WHILE typing. Try using whole hand and arm movements to navigate around the keys.  Keyboard rest are meant to be used in between typing movements not during typing.

·         Use a footrest to support your feet. When seated your hips should be slightly higher than your knees.

Guidelines for using laptops “on the go”

1.       When traveling, make sure to set yourself up as ergonomically as possible. If you are in a hotel, conference room, or any other facility, don’t settle for resting your laptop on a desk, table, counter, or surface that is high or far from reach. Your options include:

  • Using a pillow, pad or even folded towels, to raise your chair high enough so that your elbows are level or slightly higher than the keyboard (elbows at approximately 90 degrees).
  • Asking if the hotel has a docking station for laptops. If not, ask if there are computer workstations for desktops (many hotels are computer user friendly) and plug into their keyboard and monitor.
  • If you can’t find a surface low enough, or a chair high enough, then your lap is always an option.  However, you should take precautionary measures as laptop batteries can generate significant heat without sufficient ventilation. Portable laptop chill pads are easy to travel with and are great solution! 
  • Sit so that your knees and hips are level. This will allow the laptop to rest comfortably on your lap.
  • Be careful with your neck. Use a phone book, hotel guide, or even folded towels with a chill pad on top to raise the laptop sufficiently. Look down at the screen by tucking your chin in as opposed to bending your entire neck down, as this can cause strain and fatigue to the neck and shoulder area.
  • Try using a chair that does not have armrests to give you room to move your arms.

2.       Pace yourself. Take frequent breaks. Stand up and stretch. If you feel any strains or discomfort, stop what you are doing and experiment with different positions. The same rules of healthy computer use apply to laptops as well as desktops.

3.       If you will be frequently transporting your laptop think about the weight of the system. The word “system” means the weight of the laptop plus the required accessories (e.g. power supply, spare battery, external disk drive, zip drive, CD, etc.). Many lightweight portables can get pretty heavy when you add the weight of all of the components together. If your laptop plus components weighs 10 pounds or more then you should certainly consider using a carry-on bag that you can pull along.  Again, consider a good shoulder bag design if you are seeking a smaller bag, but ensure that you can comfortably carry your laptop.

There are numerous accessories to assist laptop users with comfort and adjustability when using their laptops.  Below is a list that details the accessories readily available on the market. 

External Keyboards allow you to more freely position your keyboard, meaning that you can independently adjust both the screen and the keys to obtain a better ergonomic position.

External Mice are often used by people who find the laptop’s built-in touchpad or trackball difficult to negotiate. The bigger size of a traditional mouse lets you use your entire hand to move the mouse, distributing the motion over a wider area and leading to a more comfortable experience for many users.  If you do not have access to a docking station, and must use your laptop as your main computer, it is recommended to use an external keyboard and mouse at all times.  There are a variety of styles on the market, some more ergonomically suited than others.

Document Holders keep documents positioned properly while you’re working from them leaving space on your desk. Document holders raise papers off your desk, keeping them in the line of sight (and at the same height as) your screen. Some even attach directly to your laptop’s screen; this means less head movement and increased comfort.

Laptop Stands resemble a music stand; laptops are placed on a height-adjustable platform which allows a wider variety of adjustment. In essence, it’s a portable desk – meaning you’re not confined to the height of whatever desks or countertops happen to be convenient.

Glare Filters (also known as glare screens) help cut reflections and glare. Attached to your screen, they filter out up to 99% of reflected light, allowing you to see your screen more clearly. (If you work with sensitive documents, you may also want to consider a combination glare filter/privacy filter).

Laptop Lights Since most mobile users don’t have an adjustable task-light like the one at their office, getting proper lighting can be difficult. Laptop lights attach to your notebook (using either battery power or your USB port) to provide a focused, adjustable task light. This accessory is commonly used for night-time work or on airplanes.

Laptop Chill Pads are used to place the laptop on your lap or desk while maintaining proper ventilation to avoid overheating the laptop.

Docking Stations let laptop users enjoy the comfort of full-sized peripherals at the office while preserving a notebook’s portability for travel. Docking stations contain connections for standard-size peripherals such as keyboards, monitors, and mice. When at your desk, you simply plug the notebook into the docking station, which serves as an interface between the components and essentially creates a desktop computer. When you’re ready to leave, you simply remove the notebook from the docking station.