Pain Free Working

A Guide to Ergonomics for Laptop Users

In the modern world, laptops have become an indispensable tool, allowing individuals to work, learn, and connect from virtually anywhere. However, prolonged use of laptops can often lead to various ergonomic challenges that may adversely affect one’s health and productivity. 

From eye strain to neck pain and back discomfort, improper usage of laptops can result in several musculoskeletal issues for your body. To mitigate these concerns and promote better health and comfort, understanding and implementing proper ergonomic laptop setup tips and practices are crucial.

What are Laptop Ergonomics?

Due to Covid-19, numerous workers worldwide have transitioned to remote work, many for the first time. This shift happened suddenly, with most individuals sent home equipped only with a portable laptop. 

This abrupt change is concerning, especially considering that before the pandemic, merely 7% of U.S. workers had the opportunity for regular remote work. Consequently, most people working from home lack proper desks, chairs, external keyboards, or the know-how to effectively operate a laptop in this setting.

Laptop ergonomics focuses on refining your laptop configuration to reduce the risk of potential health concerns, empowering you to maximize performance while maintaining comfort and relaxation.

Achieving optimal laptop ergonomics, whether in a workplace setting or at home, involves investing in ergonomic accessories for enhanced comfort and ensuring regular movement. 

Laptop designs prioritize being portable and convenient over good working posture. Due to the screen and keyboard being hinged together, placing the laptop flat on a surface forces you to look down when opening the screen. The low viewing angle often results in sitting with the chin pushed forward, causing pain. 

As you lean forward, the tension on your head increases. In a poor posture, while typing, your head risks applying up to 60 pounds of load on your spine, surpassing the weight of an average microwave oven.

Embrace your laptop’s portability, explore diverse environments, and prioritize maintaining good posture. By doing so, you can fully embrace the advantages of laptops while minimizing potential drawbacks like pain in the shoulders or carpal tunnel syndrome.

Here are a few tips for improving your laptop ergonomics: 

Firstly, avoid placing or using a laptop directly on your legs or lap to prevent the risk of straining your back. Alternating between sitting and standing throughout your workday can be beneficial to productivity; consider investing in an ergonomic laptop stand to raise the monitor’s height or connecting an external monitor for a better viewing angle. 

Opt for an ergonomic chair that offers adjustable height and adequate back support for added comfort while you sit. Utilizing an ergonomic keyboard and mouse can significantly reduce tension on your hands and wrists. 

Lastly, ensure you take regular breaks away from your screen to stretch and rejuvenate. These measures collectively contribute to a healthier and more comfortable laptop usage experience in the office.

Is Working With a Laptop Screen Bad Ergonomics?

Laptop screens are usually positioned lower than the level of your eyes, leading to users hunching over or straining their necks while working. This posture can cause discomfort and tension in the neck, shoulders, and back. Extended periods of using a laptop screen in this manner can result in chronic pain and musculoskeletal issues.

Improving Your Desk Setup for Laptop Use

While laptops may carry the name “lap-tops,” relying on them for prolonged periods while resting on your lap isn’t recommended. 

If you are anticipating long periods of laptop use, it’s advisable to establish your workspace on a surface, ideally equipped with ergonomic accessories. 

Working on a laptop while lying or sitting on the sofa is not recommended. This creates neck flexion and awkward postures can lead to neck, back, and shoulder pain. Similarly, sitting on the floor while typing on a laptop creates neck deviation, and puts your hands and wrists in a weird posture while typing. This will quickly lead to discomfort.

If you’re at a desk or table, adjust the chair height so your arms are parallel to the base of the laptop. Make sure your feet are flat on the floor (or on a footrest), and consider getting a wrist pad, if needed. Set the keyboard on a slight incline using an empty three-inch binder. Avoid leaning your wrists on the desk, as your wrists should be in a neutral position when typing.

To make laptops more comfortable and to lessen the risk of injuries on a non-ergonomic chair or kitchen table, adjust the chair height for parallel arms to the table to correct your posture. If you feel that the chair is too high, use a footrest to help. You can also elevate the laptop using books or a stable object if you don’t have a stand.

A primary issue when using laptops is the challenge of aligning the keyboard height with the wrists while maintaining an adequate desktop level. However, connecting an external display, especially while working on the move, can be inconvenient at times.

Consider investing in a versatile laptop stand that can raise your laptop to the right height. This stand enables you to elevate the monitor height, ensuring that the top of the screen aligns with your eye level, fostering proper posture and alleviating tension on your neck and back. 

Choosing a Good Chair

While a proper desk chair alone may not immediately alleviate back pain, opting for the correct office chair can significantly aid in back support and encourage improved posture.

Opt for a supportive chair that allows for height adjustment, enabling you to sit and maintain flat feet on the ground while ensuring your thighs remain parallel to the seat, and your spine follows its natural curve while sitting. 

Sit with your back against the chair to prevent slouching, and adjust the armrests to align your arms parallel to the desk surface, eliminating any discomfort in your muscles caused by awkward angles or weird posture.

Take Care of Your Eyes

Be aware of airflow, temperature, and humidity of the room. High airflow and temperature with low humidity can cause dry eyes and eye fatigue. To keep your eyes comfortable and moist, remember to blink frequently and consult your eye doctor if you require eye drops. 

Hunching over and gazing downward at a laptop can lead to computer vision syndrome, resulting in symptoms such as eye strain, discomfort, soreness, headaches, watery or dry eyes, double vision, and, at times, sensitivity to light.

To avoid this, opt for using soft light and choose large, easily readable fonts to reduce eye tension. Follow the 20/20/20 rule by taking breaks every 20 minutes to gaze at something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds. While taking a break with your eyes, don’t forget to take that chance to stretch your body and muscles as well when you’re feeling uncomfortable in your position.

If your eyes feel strained from prolonged computer use, consider giving yourself an eyelid massage: Place a warm towel over closed eyes, then gently massage the upper eyelid beneath the brow bone for 10 seconds, followed by the lower eyelid against the lower bone socket for another 10 seconds. 

It’s essential to visit your eye care professional annually, especially with any vision changes. If you encounter eye issues while using your laptop or viewing your computer screen, contact your eye care professional to discuss the potential benefits of computer glasses.

How Do I Use My Laptop Keyboard Ergonomically?

Typing on a laptop keyboard for extended periods can strain your wrists and hands due to the flat and compact design. To maintain better ergonomics:

Consider an External Keyboard and Mouse

Using an external ergonomic computer keyboard and mouse can allow for a more natural hand position and reduce strain on the wrists.

Use a Wrist Rest

Placing a wrist pad in front of the keyboard can provide support and prevent strain on your wrists.

Maintain Proper Hand Position

Keep your wrists straight while typing on your computer and avoid bending them upwards or downwards. Avoid leaning too close to your laptop screen. Instead of leaning in to see the font better, adjust the font size. 

If you catch yourself leaning forward, check your computer chair for proper support and ensure the laptop is positioned correctly at the right height. The ideal viewing distance should be maintained between 50 and 75 centimeters from your eyes to the front surface of the screen.

What Is the Most Ergonomic Way to Use a Laptop?

When creating a home office setup while working remotely, starting with an actual desk simplifies the process. Yet, in the current scenario, many individuals employ makeshift work surfaces due to unconventional work-from-home situations. Whether it’s a dining table, TV tray, or kitchen counter, it’s crucial to ensure that your chosen “desk” does not induce posture problems.

Maximizing the ergonomic benefits of laptop usage revolves around optimizing the setup to alleviate bodily strain. Elevating the screen to meet your eyes is key to preserving a neutral neck position; this can be achieved through a laptop riser or a stack of books.

Plugging in a separate monitor means you can still use your laptop, but now the keyboard and trackpad can remain at a comfortable height for your arms while the external monitor is adjusted to the correct height while you work. But sometimes it’s inconvenient to plug in an external monitor, particularly if you’re working on the go. The solution? Investing in a laptop stand that can tilt and adjust means you can raise the monitor’s height. 

Investing in an external mouse helps prevent repetitive strain injuries commonly linked to using the laptop’s trackpad. Furthermore, employing an external monitor and keyboard can notably enhance ergonomics, enabling a comfortable typing position while positioning the screen at eye level, thereby reducing strain on the body.

Will Investing in an External Monitor and External Keyboard for My Laptop Help Me Ergonomically?

Yes, investing in an external monitor and keyboard can significantly improve ergonomics. Using an external monitor, similar to an ergonomic laptop stand, allows you to adjust the screen to eye level, reducing strain on your neck.

With a desktop, the screen should be placed at or slightly below eye level so your head is straight, with the eyes looking slightly down. The keyboard is positioned so you can comfortably type without straining your wrists, elbows, or shoulders.

Final Note

Prioritizing ergonomic practices while using a laptop is essential for preventing discomfort and potential health issues associated with prolonged usage. Implementing these simple adjustments can significantly enhance comfort, productivity, and overall well-being while using a laptop for work or leisure.

Always remember to take regular breaks, stretch, and vary your posture to maintain optimal health while using your laptop.

Tricia Montano

Tricia founded Pain Free Working in 2019 due to suffering from degenerative disc disease in her L5-S1 from working an office job for the past 18 years. She and her team strive on finding and reviewing the best office equipment to help fellow pain sufferers find relief and to enable people like her to do their jobs comfortably.