It’s no secret that the world is getting increasingly mobile, and this is reflected in our preferences for mobile-friendly devices. About 64 percent of North Americans own smartphones; and in the U.S. more than 80 percent of adults have personal computers, with Millennials overwhelmingly preferring laptops to desktops. If you own one, you’re likely to enjoy the mobility and versatility it brings to your lifestyle, but keep in mind that extensive laptop use comes with unique ergonomic challenges which can lead to acute or even chronic pain or injuries. Stay on good terms with your laptop by avoiding related health problems. Read on to understand common complaints and to get a few practical office ergonomic tips that will keep you and your laptop on Cloud 9.
You and Your Laptop: Potential Health Pitfalls
It’s not uncommon for laptop users to develop pain or injury, and ignoring short-term symptoms may put you at higher risk of long-term injuries or chronic conditions like musculoskeltal pain or injury, Computer Vision Syndrome or permanent myopia. Let’s take a closer look at some of the common problems laptop users experience due to poor ergonomics before diving into how to combat these potential issues.
Musculoskeletal Pain or Injury
These include carpal tunnel, tendinitis, “tennis elbow,” and back problems like spinal hernias and disc problems. Symptoms may include pain, muscle fatigue, loss of sensation, and tingling or reduced performance, most often affecting the neck, lower back and wrist.
Eye Strain or Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS)
Staring at a laptop screen for hours at a time can cause eye strain and CVS, a group of eye and vision-related conditions directly related to extensive use of digital devices, including laptops. If you’ve ever spent an extended period of time working on your laptop before experiencing headaches, sore or tired-feeling eyes, temporarily blurred vision or similar discomfort, your laptop use likely caused this eye strain.
When you spend a significant amount of time staring at small screens, you may develop myopia, a sight condition that makes distant items appear blurred. If you already have myopia, extended laptop use can worsen the condition temporarily or permanently.
Over time you could experience any of these conditions from extensive laptop use with improper ergonomics. Even just one day spent working on a laptop can cause symptoms that last for a few hours or even a few days. And unfortunately, some of these conditions produce a domino effect: other parts of your body work harder to compensate for the injured ones, thus creating further strain or injury. But don’t throw in the towel just yet! There is hope—and it comes in the form of proper ergonomics.
5 Office Ergonomic Tips For Safer Laptop Use
If you’re using a laptop for work, your employer will likely provide an ergonomic workstation. But let’s face it, you probably still use yours at the coffee shop, on an airplane or at home on your couch. Either way, there are still options to proactively reduce risk and protect your health. Here are five key things to keep in mind whenever you break out your laptop:
1. Limit Non-Workstation Laptop Use
We know, we know. This sort of goes against the perks of having a laptop, but your computer’s design simply doesn’t factor in ergonomics for prolonged use. The proximity of the keyboard and monitor makes it impossible for both to simultaneously be in good positions as related to the laptop user, so try to limit those on-the-go sessions to shorter periods of time. Whenever possible work at an ergonomic workstation and connect your laptop to a docking station that accounts for proper ergonomics:
- A separate keyboard, so the monitor can be positioned at eye level about an arm’s length from your eyes
- A wrist pad to support your wrists and forearms—when using a keyboard the line of your arms from elbow to wrist and the back of your hand should be flat, parallel to the floor
- A height-adjustable chair with armrests (to further support the forearm position noted above) and lumbar support
2. Adjust the Display for Optimal Comfort
If you and your laptop are often away from your desk and out on the town, ensure yours has a larger, high-resolution screen to take it easy on your eyes.. Both laptop screens and workstation monitors can be adjusted for brightness, text size, contrast and color temperature, all of which can also help reduce eye strain. Wired recommends that you adjust your monitor’s brightness to correspond with the lighting around your workspace. You can also take advantage of downloadable apps like F.lux that will automatically adjust your display’s brightness and colors based on the time of day and your surroundings.
3. Combat Poor Lighting and Glare
Lighting, glare and the type of display all affect your eyes. Tilt your monitor slightly to reduce or eliminate glare caused by natural, overhead or desk lights. Anti-glare and privacy screens can further reduce risk from glare. When choosing a new laptop (or making a recommendation to your employer) look for those that have a high-resolution display and features such as “anti-glare,” “flicker free” and a “blue light filter.” To further reduce the risk of vision-related problems while using your laptop, consider using prescription or non-prescription eye glasses that reduce glare, filter blue light and help prevent fatigue.
4. Prepare for Safe Phone Use
If you are often—or even sometimes—on the phone while using your laptop, consider using a headset or place calls using speakerphone. This will reduce the chances that you’ll try to position and hold your phone on your shoulder for any length of time.
5. Take Breaks
Adopt the “20-20-20 Rule” to help prevent eye strain and injury. For every 20 minutes spent staring at a digital screen, look away to gaze at a distant object—one that’s 20+ feet away—for at least 20 seconds.
And if you can, take frequent breaks to stand up, walk, stretch and take any other measures to reduce muscle tension and fatigue. If walking away from your workstation isn’t always possible, explore the option of using a convertible desk that allows you to change from sitting to standing and back again when you’re spending long periods of time on your laptop.
We get it—laptops are incredibly practical thanks to their small size, portability and ease of connectivity. But with these benefits comes great responsibility. Look out for yourself by understanding how to reduce potential short and long-term ergonomic problems. Do this, and you and your laptop can work happily ever after.