Contributions from Rachel Jao (OTR/L, CEAS I, AOEAS) and Olivia Lizak
Laptops have given us the convenience to take our office wherever we go, transforming the modern workplace. Despite what you may believe, laptops were not designed for prolonged use. Since the screen and keyboard/trackpad are connected, there is no good way of assuming an ergonomic position while using the laptop alone. The user will either have poor head and neck posture or poor wrist and hand posture, creating some significant health risks and terrible ergonomic work conditions.
Fortunately, there are ways to avoid pain and discomfort caused by poor laptop ergonomics. We reached out to one of our experts in worksite health, Rachel Jao (OTR/L, CEAS I, AOEAS), to learn more about the impact laptops have on our health and how to set up an ergonomically sound workstation. Rachel’s guidelines are helpful for both frequent (2+ hours a day) and occasional laptop users.
Ergonomic Problems with Laptops
The primary issue with laptop ergonomics is that there is no one height that simultaneously keeps the user in good neck/head and hand/wrist posture. If the height of the screen is at the correct height, then the height of the keyboard/trackpad ends up being too high. This will cause the user to reach up for the keyboard/mouse, leading to hunched shoulders, decreased circulation of the lower extremity and more.
In contrast, if the height of the keyboard and mouse are at the correct height, then the height of the screen is too low. This leads to forward and rounded shoulders, leaning forward to look at the screen, causing pain on the cervical spine. Contact stress may also develop against the palm of the wrist in users who plant the wrist against the laptop surface.
Guidelines for Using Laptops Ergonomically
- We recommend using your laptop with an external keyboard and mouse connected to support proper posture. If possible, add a separate monitor.
- Consider a laptop riser or place your laptop on stacked items (books, paper, etc.) to ensure the screen is in your line of sight when sitting.
- Use a chair that supports you in a comfortable upright or slightly reclined angle, ensuring that ears, shoulders and hips are aligned.
- Take regular postural breaks to stretch and walk away from the workstation each hour for 1-2 minutes AND stretch every 20-30 minutes.
If you are unhappy with your current workspace setup, our team of ergonomists is here to help. Connect with a member from our PRN Worksite Health team today via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call at (408) 586-0800 ext. 10.