Remember when everyone used a desktop computer to do their computer tasks? How about the time when laptops were a luxury possession rather than a fixture of our lifestyle? Even though it may seem like an eternity ago, laptops started becoming popular in 2006 when they first outsold desktop computers.
One issue that arises with prolonged laptop use is the “weak” ergonomic features it provides. Most popular laptops are relatively small in size, accompanied by small screens, small keyboards, and small mouse devices. While they carry an important advantage of being mobile and facilitating working almost anywhere, they don’t provide the luxury of comfortable work when used for prolonged time.
The advantage of being able to work using your laptop almost anywhere doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea, and given the statistics showing the lower back and neck pain are the leading sources of disability worldwide and work-related factors being the primary risk factors associated with these disorders, we need to establish ergonomic guidelines to avoid and reduce the potential of injury from prolonged laptop use. So how can we make our laptop ergonomic?
1- Improve your work habits
Before worrying about what tools you may need to buy, you need to address your work mindset first. Studies have consistently shown that work habits are a higher ergonomic priority than assistive or ergonomic tools and equipment. Surprisingly, ergonomic work habits are not tailored around your sitting posture, as scientific studies have shown that the shape of your posture is insignificant compared to the amount of time you spend sitting. Below are some practical and evidence-based tips to improve your work habits:
1- Take a moving break every 1-1.5 hours of sitting.
2- Take a visual break every 20 minutes of screen time by looking away from the screen for 20 seconds.
3- Perform basic office exercises and stretches 3 times during your work day (image below and resisted exercises here).
2- Choose your ergonomic furniture
If you enjoy changing your workspace frequently through cafes and coworking spaces, your access to ergonomic chairs and desks will be limited, and you will need to keep an open and flexible mindset concerning your sitting arrangement. The bare minimum in this case would be to search for a height-adjusted chair the would allow you to have a comfortable posture and reduced stress over your joints from prolonged awkward postures, such as excessive bending at the neck from staring at the screen, or excessive elbow bending from typing while sitting on a relatively low chair.
In case you have access to an ergonomic chair, you can read our article on how to it up to maximize its potential and ensure your comfort.
While ergonomic furniture can provide some comfort, they do not assist in the disadvantage of the laptop’s keyboard, mouse, and screen. This is where your choice of tools and equipment is important.
3- Choose your tools and equipment
Laptops are constantly getting lighter and more compact in size. While this is advantageous for travelling and carrying the laptop anywhere you go, it is disadvantageous for the most important functions you’re going to use: typing, clicking, and viewing the screen. First and foremost, consider investing in a wireless mouse, as it will always be better than using the laptop’s built-in mouse.
Here’s the dilemma when it comes to having other ergonomic tools:
- Getting a laptop incliner will solve the vision issue, but will create a typing issue since your wrists will be forced into extreme extension while typing, or you will have to keep your arms hanging in the air. Both poor decisions when it comes to upper limb health.
- Getting an ergonomic keyboard along with the laptop incliner will solve the typing and vision issues, but will require plenty of space and a much bigger bag which negates the idea behind owning a mobile computer, as well as make the laptop transportation strenuous and painful if you walk long distances. This is of no issue if you use your laptop predominantly in one workspace, but for the travelling user, it’s not the most convenient solution.
The optimal solution is as most scientific answer: it depends. Luckily for us, ergonomic keyboards aren’t superior to regular keyboards when it comes to wrist and upper body musculoskeletal health, so you can invest in a foldable keyboard that can fit in your laptop case and allow for easy transportation, on the condition that it is easy and practical to use. You can even fit a small adjustable laptop incliner in your case as well. Owning these three items (wireless mouse, foldable keyboard, and laptop incliner) would resolve the clicking, typing, and viewing issues, but will also increase your laptop case’s weight. If you feel the added baggage is going to create neck and back pain from carrying it around, consider only purchasing the tools for the tasks you do the most: i.e. purchasing a mouse only if you don’t type for prolonged hours.
To sum up, the most important asset when relying on your laptop is your work habits and attention to your physical health during work. Tools and equipment can come in handy given the right context and amount of time you may need to use them, so make smart decisions when it comes to buying any assistive device. If this feels overwhelming, feel free to book a free consultation session where we can assess your current workstation and work habits and guide you on how to take control over your health at work.