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Laptop Computer Ergonomics

Posted Sep 27 2008 8:45am
As the trend of remote office environments continues to grow, so does the use of laptop computers. The laptop computer does provide lightweight and portable computer access to allow the user unlimited flexibility. However, this luxury does not come without adverse effects. The laptop computer keyboard is an ergonomic debacle. The laptop keyboard is concentrated on a single flat plane thus eliminating the ability to separate, tilt, tent or replace the position of the individual keys and keypads. There is virtually no adjustability to improve the positions of the shoulders, elbows, wrists and hands. However there are some guidelines to use that will promote proper laptop ergonomics and laptop computer user safety and comfort.
Why Computer Laptop Ergonomics is important:
In this day and age many people use their computer laptop as their primary computer, so it’s important to have it set-up ergonomically-correct in order to avoid back pain, neck pain, and other musculoskeletal injuries or strains. The problem is that laptop computers are designed with portability in mind rather than sound ergonomic principles. Basically, if the screen is at the right height then the laptop keyboard is too high, and if the laptop keyboard is in the right position, then the screen is too close and too low. And laptop touchpads and trackballs are never very user friendly causing excessive motions and error rates. Given these ergonomics challenges with the laptop computer, here are several simple laptop ergonomics and laptop computer posture tips to optimize your laptop computer set-up, these laptop ergonomics / computer posture tips are focused on promoting neutral joint postures to reduce muscle strain and wear and tear:
Laptop Computer Ergonomics Solutions:
The solutions to laptop ergonomics issues are two fold: Posture and the appropriate laptop accessories. You must use them both in order to achieve proper laptop computer ergonomics and optimize your positioning.

Use a large screen:
Use a laptop computer with the largest screen possible for your needs to avoid the stressful posture that results from straining to see the text on a small screen. Many laptop computers offer large screens (15" plus), but these can be difficult to use while on the go. There are a number of smaller notebook and ultra-portable computer laptops on the market, and while a smaller screen (12.1") can be useful in mobile settings, make sure that you’re able to read the screen characters and easily use the laptop keyboard (the smaller the laptop, the smaller the keyboard). If you find yourself straining to see your screen, increase the font size.
Use a Laptop Holder:
Using a laptop holder or laptop stand is the most critical and important thing you can do to optimize your laptop ergonomics. While using the laptop holder, place the laptop screen at eye level. Ideally, set your computer laptop height and screen angle so you can easily view the screen without bending or rotating your neck, and put it about an arm’s length in front of you. To do this, you will usually need to elevate the computer laptop a few inches above your desk, and this is why the laptop holder or laptop stand is so useful, as the laptop holder provides a stable support surface for the laptop to be placed on.

Use a separate or external compact keyboard:
When using the laptop for extended periods, use an external compact keyboard with your computer laptop and position the compact keyboard at a height that allows your shoulders and arms to be in a relaxed position, with your elbows at a 90° angle when typing. Ideally, place the external compact keyboard on an adjustable keyboard tray beneath your desk surface to help ensure that your wrists stay in a neutral (flat) position, position the laptop ergonomics keyboard at elbow height, this will keep your wrists in the straight position while typing.
Use a separate, external computer mouse:
Be kind to your wrists and hands by using an independent computer mouse rather than the constricted computer mouse touch screen or track ball that’s incorporated into your computer laptop keyboard. Ideally, place the computer mouse on an adjustable-position mouse platform such as with the adjustable keyboard trays, so you can keep it near your body and keep your wrist straight while using it.
Recline slightly:
This will allow you to properly position the ergonomics computer laptop keyboard and computer mouse with the least strain on your neck. Angle the screen slightly upward so that you can view the screen without having to bend your neck too far down. This is important in order to keep your head and neck in a relaxed posture; avoid excessive neck flexion (forward head bending) or rotation to either side, make sure your computer laptop and computer keyboard is directly in front of you.

Make your chair work for you;
The type of office chair you use is critical. Basically, any office chair that is fully adjustable and has lumbar support will work, but you need to be sure to set it up correctly. Make sure you have proper lumbar support and that you do not slouch.

Support Your Feet with Footrest:
Use an office footrest to support your feet. When seated your hips should be slightly higher than your knees.

Support Your Wrists:
Use wrist rests if possible, gel wrist rests are recommended in order to reduce any force on the wrists themselves. Keep your wrists as flat and straight as possible. Use whole hand and arm movements to navigate the laptop ergonomics keyboard. This is why the external keyboard is so important. Your hands and wrists should be kept in a straight wrist posture when typing and should not be resting on a palm rest, table or lap while typing. This can cause you Ergonomics Laptop disorders. Maintain the three primary reaching zones that were noted above.
Take breaks:
Take brief breaks every half hour, at the very least taking your eyes off the screen and letting them rest on something in the distance, and doing some simple stretches while at your desk, such as stretching your neck, shoulders, arms and legs. Every one or two hours, leave your desk to walk around to get your blood flowing and move your muscles.
Travel light:
Be careful when carrying your ergonomics computer laptop around. Carry your bag across your lower back in a messenger bag style, or use a backpack with dual padded shoulder straps and avoid draping the bag over just one shoulder. If your ergonomics computer laptop and components weigh more than 10 lbs, a roll-along carrier is the best choice.
Computer-related ergonomics problems are omnipresent and ever increasing. Computer -related ergonomic risk factrors are everywhere! There are simple methods of correcting the ergonomic set-up and person’s posture at the computer that can make a significant and positive impact on reducing or eliminating computer-related ergonomics problems. Remember, “choice is a function of awareness”; education is critical, then choosing to act and make simple, easy adjustments to the computer work set up can result in positive gains for anyone who uses a computer!
Nicole Matoushek MPH, PT
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