The trouble with laptops

May 13, 2020

I’m looking at buying a laptop in the next few weeks. Apart from grumbling about the cost, it’s also reminded me how many people I see at the clinic with neck /shoulder and arm pain that seem linked to increasing laptop use.

Even before the Covid-19 crisis and lockdown there was already  a trend for companies to “hot-desk” their employees workstations, and combined with “flexible” working from home mean laptops seem to be being used more and more, often without any consideration of the potential health problems that they can cause. There’s no issue with occasional laptop use during the day, the problems seem to arise with prolonged use, day after day over a long period of time. Patients come in c/o neck pain, headaches, shoulder pain and pain down their arms and on questioning there is often a connection between their symptoms and increased laptop use.

Laptops are great in some ways, but the unfortunate fact is that they aren’t great ergonomically and are not well suited to prolonged use. Here’s some tips to help you avoid unnecessary pain when using laptops.

Use A Laptop Riser

Whats a laptop riser I hear you ask. Many patients look at me rather bemused when I ask whether they use one, but they are a simple solution to repositioning the laptop screen, so that you’re not forced to look downwards all the time.

There are lots of different versions available at various prices, but all do much the same job, of raising the laptop screen and positioning it like a standard desktop screen. The image below shows a typical type that is widely available on amazon etc.

Use A Wireless Mouse & Keyboard

If you’re using a laptop riser as above, you will need a seperate keyboard and mouse.  Wireless versions are preferable as set up is much quicker. On my own laptop, I keep the wireless dongle permanently plugged into a usb port and the keyboard and mouse connect instantly.

 Tim's Top Tip

Using a laptop for any length of time on your sofa, in bed or on the floor is asking for trouble. Any physio in the world is going to struggle to help you if you continue with those habits! Whenever possible, sit at a table or desk with a good supportive chair.

Take Regular Breaks

Taking regular breaks to change position is so important as it is often sustaining positions that cause pain. Even if using the tips above to improve your laptops ergonomics, I would still advise you take a micro break every 20 -30 minutes away from the laptop. Ideally stand up and change position briefly

Ask for a Work Station Assessment

Finally if you’re having problems with a laptop supplied by your employer, you should ask for an ergonomic workstation assessment to be undertaken, hopefully with a view to having the above equipment being provided. This is a service we can provide for employers on request if there is no in-house provision.

 So to summarise, laptops are great for versatility and flexible, but ergonomically they are a bit of a disaster. If you’re having pain in the neck /shoulders or arms and use a laptop for prolonged periods, changes may be needed to your laptop setup. If despite trying the above tips you’re pain persists, you may need an in depth physiotherapy assessment of the issues so give us a call at the clinic.

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