Laptops have allowed for increased mobility and portability, allowing you to take your office on the go. Whether you’re traveling for business or getting some work done at the neighborhood coffee shop, laptops and tablet devices give you the power you need, wherever you are. However, using a laptop computer doesn’t mean that ergonomics and proper posture go out the window. Staying healthy and comfortable still requires you to pay attention to how you are sitting while using your laptop. Read on to learn more about laptop ergonomics.
Ergonomics refers to the “science of work” and broadly encompasses the physical and environmental issues within a work setting to ensure a worker’s physical comfort and health. As a science, ergonomics has existed for over 100 years and has evolved dramatically, particularly in the last few years as more companies understand the financial and human costs of injured workers.
Although most people associate ergonomics with posture, body movements, and repetitive motions, it does also encompass all elements of the work environment that can affect your physical health. This includes:
- Extremes in temperature
- Visibility problems and eye strain
- Noise levels
- Vibrations and other disturbances
Refraining from good ergonomics can contribute to an increased risk of workplace injury (including muscle strain and joint pain), along with increased stress, burnout, sleep problems, and other issues that affect your quality of life outside the office.
Unfortunately, using a laptop computer almost inherently comes with ergonomic risk, partly due to the mobility, partly because of the smaller screen size. Thankfully, with some forethought and the right equipment, you can maintain proper laptop ergonomics.
Setting Up Your Laptop
Regardless of how you are using your laptop, good ergonomics starts with a good setup. A good workstation should:
- Allow for a neutral posture that keeps the neck and spine inline (meaning no bending or hunching forward)
- Maintain a relaxed but well-supported back
- Keep shoulders relaxed but firm
- Maintain straight wrists and hands that are not bent or turned over the laptop keyboard
- Allow elbows to stay comfortably nestled near the body and bent at an angle somewhere between 90 and 120 degrees
Maintaining this sort of setup gives you a good jumping-off point that is versatile for all forms of laptop use, whether you’re typing up a report or drawing up logos and designs.
Working at Your Desk
For the most part, you should be using your laptop at your desk. The hard, flat surface keeps the laptop from overheating, and the general ergonomics of working at a desk make for a more comfortable situation when you’re working for long periods.
Setting Your Laptop’s Height and Distance
Position your laptop such that the top of the screen is at or slightly below your eye level. It should also be about an arm’s length away. This may mean investing in a docking station, which more closely resembles the setup of a traditional desktop computer. Otherwise, you should consider a laptop stand, monitor risers, or stacks of phonebooks to get your laptop at the proper height. This also necessitates the use of an external mouse and keyboard. For easy transitions, consider an external monitor that you can use as a second screen for your laptop.
Once you have your laptop’s screen at the right height and distance, it’s time to consider your sitting posture.Proper posture will prevent muscle strain and keep your spine properly aligned.
- Start with your lower body. Adjust your seat such that your feet lie flat on the floor. This may require a footrest. Avoid twisting your ankles, resting the outside of your foot on the floor, or crossing your legs. Keep your knees at a 90-degree angle and slightly lower than your hips.
- Sit up straight while maintaining the natural curve of your lower back. Leaning too far forward will lead to hunching over, while leaning too far back will cause slouching. Place a small cushion or a rolled towel between the chair and your back for added lumbar support.
- Keep your shoulders relatively aligned with your hips and ideally low. To get them in the right position, raise your shoulders to your ears, pull them back, and then let them drop down naturally. That is where your shoulders should be.
- Try to keep your ears, shoulders, and hips in a straight line. It’s common for people to move their heads forward, especially when they’re trying to read something on a computer screen. If this is a problem, just make a note to check your head position every so often and pull it back if you notice yourself leaning forward, as this awkward posture can lead to discomfort.
Keyboard and Mouse
With your laptop propped up on a laptop stand or docking station, using the keyboard and touchpad is going to be uncomfortable and difficult, so it’s worth investing in an external keyboard and mouse to support proper ergonomics and posture.
Place your external keyboard directly in front of you when you are typing. Your arms should be bent into an L-shape with your elbows at your sides. When you are typing or using your mouse, your hands should be level with or slightly below your elbows. Keep your wrists straight as you type.
While your external mouse is important and useful, try to limit how often you use it. Set shortcut keys on your keyboard, and try to increase the sensitivity on your mouse so that you don’t have to reach or make large motions to move your mouse cursor.
Along with your keyboard and mouse, make all your other common items easy to reach. This may include your phone, important documents, and pens and pencils.
Working at Your Lap
Despite what laptops are called, you should generally refrain from using your laptop on your lap, especially for long periods. However, if you are getting some work done during a short trip to the café, it’s okay to use your laptop as it was designed. Note that this applies to work lasting less than an hour. Otherwise, you should find a level table and follow the instructions from above.
Start with the laptop on your lap, making sure that your wrists are straight. Try to use a binder or a lap desk to prop up the screen and maximize its height. Not only will this help to maintain a more upright head posture, but it is also the solution for how to cool down a laptop when you are hard at work. Tilt the screen to keep your head posture as neutral as possible while eliminating potential glare.
Make sure you are sitting in a chair that allows you to sit comfortably upright or slightly reclined. Try to keep your lower back supported with a pillow, towel, or bag to avoid the onset of discomfort.
Take a Break
The most important part of using a laptop or computer ergonomically is to take frequent breaks. The human body was not designed to stay in one position for hours on end. Most experts recommend that shorter breaks more often are better than fewer breaks that are longer. Try to get into the habit of standing up and stretching your arms and legs every hour or so. Even just walking to the kitchen to refill on water can help to maintain better alignment and take some strain off your joints and muscles.
While laptops offer incredible computing power in a compact design, you can still end up with an aching neck and shoulders and other potential injuries if you don’t use them properly. Implementing the right ergonomics will keep you healthy throughout your workday, allowing you to focus on the right things in and out of the office.