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Ergonomic use of laptop computers

June 28, 2011

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When individuals work from a remote office, they often do so with a laptop computer. Although they are convenient for use on the go, laptops create a special set of ergonomics concerns.

“The primary problem is that the screen and keyboard are connected, which often results in bending your neck too far forward to see the screen,” said Milford, PA-based ergonomics consultant Dan MacLeod. “This can be OK on an airplane or in a hotel room, but for long hours at a desk, it can create problems, such as a sore neck.”

MacLeod suggested a few simple solutions, such as using a docking station or separate keyboard with your laptop to allow elevation of the screen and place less stress on the neck. “On the positive side, laptops usually have a touchpad that is integrated into the keyboard,” MacLeod said. “This feature reduces the problems caused by reaching back and forth to a mouse.”

To ensure proper ergonomic use of a laptop, the University of Minnesota offers the following recommendations:

  • Make sure the laptop keyboard is set up so your elbows are level or slightly higher than the keyboard. Your arms should be at a 90-degree angle, with neutral wrists and the upper arms hanging as vertically as possible.
  • Try to use a chair that does not have arm rests so you have room to move your arms.
  • Avoid resting on the wrists when typing. Use whole hand and arm movements to navigate around the keys.
  • When using a laptop keyboard, be careful not to pound too hard on the keys, as laptop keyboards usually are more sensitive and the key bed more shallow.
  • If the laptop glide point is difficult to move, consider using a separate mouse that can be placed on the desktop.

MacLeod urged users to remember basic computer ergonomicss: “Elbows at your sides, hands in the same plane as the forearm, neck in its proper alignment, and then change positions so that you don’t stay in a static posture for too long.”

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