Laptop computers were once used mainly as secondary computers; for travelers who couldn’t get to the office or students to take to the library. Not so anymore. More and more laptops are becoming the primary working computer and most of the time laptops are designed with portability, not good ergonomics in mind.

Differences between laptop and desktop

Computer users who use a laptop on a frequent basis must usually compromise either wrist posture or neck posture. Normally, with a desktop computer, the top of the monitor is positioned around eye level, and the keyboard is placed at about the same level as the elbows. With laptops however, the keyboard and the monitor are attached, so the positions cannot be adjusted independently. The result is that comfort must be compromised. Placing the laptop at a low enough level for a comfortable arm position means that the neck is tilted forward to view the screen; raising the screen to an acceptable level means that the hands are too high. Looking down at the monitor or bending forward for long periods of time can cause neck and shoulder pain.

Using the right chair?

A chair that is too low or a table that is too high can cause poor wrist posture or contact stress between the wrist and the surface edge. This can lead to hand and wrist problems. Laptop users also tend to use their laptops wherever they are—in bed, on the dining room table, on the floor—locations that generally don’t promote good working postures, especially for the neck and back.

How to adjust

A few simple improvements can greatly improve comfort and reduce the chance of injury while working at a laptop computer:

  • When using a laptop as your primary computer use an external keyboard, mouse and ideally, an external monitor. This way you can attain an ideal working posture. At the very least, use an external keyboard and mouse and follow the next point for raising the laptop.
  • Raise the laptop up off the work surface so that the top of the viewing screen is at approximately eye level. There are many different types of laptop risers available; if possible the riser should be height adjustable to ensure a correct height and accommodate different users. If no riser is available, the laptop can be placed on top of books or a box (just make sure the fan can adequately cool the laptop).
  • Take frequent breaks and change postures frequently. Mini-breaks—as short as 10 seconds—are recommended throughout the day. Research has found that short, frequent breaks are actually more beneficial than longer, more infrequent beaks.
  • Use a document holder to get documents off of the desk surface.
  • Sit in an adjustable chair with good back support. Ensure that your workstation is adjusted so that your wrists and hands are in line with your forearms and not resting on the edge of your laptop.
  • When transporting your laptop, use a rolling laptop bag versus carrying it over long distances or a backpack with well-padded straps to distribute the weight evenly across your shoulders.