Don’t Break Your Back: 5 Tips For Using A Laptop In Comfort

laptopergonomics   Don’t Break Your Back: 5 Tips For Using A Laptop In ComfortLaptops are small, light and portable. They are also, in a strange twist of fate, often far more uncomfortable than the bulky desktops they replace. Being forced to place the screen, touchpad and keyboard in a compact box creates all sorts of ergonomic issues. And then there’s the matter of carrying it around.

Using a laptop as your primary PC doesn’t demand that you sacrifice comfort, however. The problems they cause can mostly be resolved. Let’s look at five easy laptop ergonomics tips to take make sure your laptop doesn’t become a pain in your, uh, back.

Use A Laptop Stand With A Keyboard & Mouse

laptopstand   Don’t Break Your Back: 5 Tips For Using A Laptop In Comfort

If you are using your laptop at home or work it will likely sit at a desk. This can cause ergonomic problems even if you own a nice ergonomic chair. The display will sit too low and the keyboard will not be at an optimal angle. Laptop users often find themselves hunching to compensate.

You can solve this by purchasing a laptop stand and using an external keyboard. Look for a stand that is adjustable, as positioning will depend on your height. It’s also wise to place the keyboard in a keyboard tray that can be attached to your desk. This keeps your wrists at a neutral angle that prevents excess strain.

A mouse is also a good idea. A small, portable mouse can be used in a variety of positions that are much more ergonomic than the touchpad on your keyboard. Mouse buttons also tend to be more precise and easier to use than those on a touchpad, which reduces repetitive or forceful clicking.

Use An External Monitor

monitorthumb   Don’t Break Your Back: 5 Tips For Using A Laptop In Comfort

Before you buy a laptop you should think about its display. Manufacturers are currently pushing high-resolution displays because they provide a crisp picture that’s visually superior to competitors. However, a high-resolution display can also cause problems with scaling. Some text and images may appear very small, which can cause users to strain or hunch in an attempt to clearly read what’s displayed.

This is why an external monitor is a great idea if you are using your laptop at home or work frequently. A large, 22 to 30 inch monitor can display text clearly while also providing plenty of pixels to work with. This will also likely solve the height issue previously discussed, which means you won’t need to buy a stand. An external keyboard is still a good idea, however.

Resist Terrible Seating

couch   Don’t Break Your Back: 5 Tips For Using A Laptop In Comfort

Part of a laptop’s allure is portable computing. Users can work while in an airport, at a coffee shop or waiting at a doctor’s office. There’s no way to control what seating is available in these locations, of course, but it is possible to pick the best of the bunch.

The most ergonomic public seating is usually a simple, straight-back wooden chair. They aren’t plush but their lack of padding persuades a straight back rather than a hunched or slumped position. A standard plastic chair or even a bar stool can be a decent substitute.

Avoid comfy couches, loveseats or decorative chairs. These feel great at first but almost always lack anything resembling back support. Most people slump, hunch or half-heartedly recline, all of which can cause back issues with surprising speed.

The only exception to this is a recliner with a straight back. Chairs like this usually do a good job of spreading the load across a user’s back, bottom and thighs. Even then, approach a strange chair cautiously. Stand up after ten minutes of use to see if it’s starting to cause any discomfort.

Stretch

stretch   Don’t Break Your Back: 5 Tips For Using A Laptop In Comfort

The human body was not meant to spend long periods of time sitting – and not just because of back issues. Our entire bodies tense up as our muscles lose flexibility. It’s easy to accidentally “throw out” an arm or leg after spending several hours sitting still.

Stretching is an easy solution. It’s generally a good idea to stand up and move about for at least five minutes after every hour of work sitting down. There are a lot of places to find tips on stretches, but my favorite guide is the one published by the University of Toronto. Just don’t do the one where you stick your tongue out if anyone is around.

Carry Your Laptop In A Backpack

crumpler   Don’t Break Your Back: 5 Tips For Using A Laptop In Comfort

Backpacks aren’t that cool. They’re generally for kids or hikers, which is why so many people avoid them. Businessmen prefer rolling suitcases or briefcases while students prefer a variety of single-strap messenger bags.

Unfortunately, those options aren’t ergonomic. Rolling suitcases often cause people to walk in a hunched or leaning position, briefcases place strain on the arm and hand and messenger bags distribute an entire bag’s weight over one shoulder.

A good backpack is the way to go. It distributes weight evenly across two shoulders and can be adjusted to ensure a snug, secure fit. Most also come with a buffet of pockets, crannies and knocks for storing various peripherals. Make sure to buy a laptop bag with a separate, padded compartment.

Conclusion

Ergonomic laptop use is a bit more difficult than desktop use, which is already enough of a challenge. But it’s far from impossible. With a laptop stand, a keyboard, a backpack and these tips it’s not hard to stay healthy and pain-free.

Image Credit: Guillermo Esteves, Kim Faires, John Bieler, Kars Alfrink

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38 Comments -

0 votes

Efi Dreyshner

Stretch – The most importent tip!
Even if you are using a dekstop PC – you have to stretch any 20-30 min’

Thanks (:

0 votes

salim benhouhou

that’s right . i am trying to apply this tip but i just can’t .
when i start using my PC i forget about the whole world .

0 votes

Efi Dreyshner

Yes, sometimes my mind is deep on the wrok, and I just forget.
What I have done is to download Alarm Clock Xtreme to my Galaxy, and every 35 min’, the alarm turns on :D
Very useful.

0 votes

Yang Yang Li

Try installing a break reminder software. Some will blackout the computer screen for a few seconds or give you a warning. MakeUseOf did an article listing the best of those softwares a while ago.

0 votes

Adrian Rea

Much of the time I work on the laptop on a workbench. I some time use a raised monitor but as I run through many machines that its not worth it. I will recommend that those who work at a bench can place one foot on the lower shelf which will encourage the spine to go straight. Having good music in the background encourages a bit of dad dancing periodically to keep the joints moving.

0 votes

Lee

Interesting, although I wouldn’t say students don’t like backpacks.. I see pretty much everyone on my campus with a backpack.
I carry my laptop in a backpack too and it definitely is much more comfortable than a shoulder bag and much easier to carry around than a rolling suitcase (especially if you have to walk outside or in big crowds).

0 votes

Matt Smith

I see a lot of messenger bags these days. Mostly the “cool” stuff from companies like Chrome and Timbuk2. Pretty nice looking but useless for carrying stuff long distances.

0 votes

Lisa Santika Onggrid

Some students think they’re cool, which is true, but not when you’re stuffing it with 300+ pages math and physics textbooks. Particularly bad for shoulders.

We sometimes use messenger bags along with backpacks when our backpacks are full, though. Commonly a laptop+some textbooks in backpack, then notebooks or extra textbooks in messenger bag.

0 votes

Lisa Santika Onggrid

Here all student uses backpacks, except in ‘light’ days where we don’t have too much subjects. I agree carrying it with backpack is more comfortable, though sometimes I would just use softcase (our term for handleless thin laptop bag) and clutch it around.

0 votes

Robert Ruedisueli

I personally wish someone could design a messenger bag that can be carried evenly on the back

0 votes

iceman

yes my main coputer is a laptop ang not only my back hurts but also my neck

0 votes

Somaiya Ebrahim

i use my laptop in bed.. :)

0 votes

Matt Smith

I hope it’s not overheating

0 votes

Somaiya Ebrahim

it does overheat..but im thinking of getting a cooling pad or something for it soon..

0 votes

Alex Perkins

As an avid laptop user (My only PC) I made a laptop stand with a fan that cools it and also raises it up a bit at an angle.

0 votes

Gravity Dead

haha this article is surely for me :p

0 votes

druv vb

Move away, walk and stretch every 30 mins. But also relax your eyes… Smartphones also share the same.

0 votes

Lisa Santika Onggrid

Thank you. I know I’ve broken at least half of the rules of ergonomy.
I always use backpack, like any other student in my school, but with the heavy books we lug around all day, we often carry extra bags, which kinda defeat the purpose of that advice. Our school doesn’t provide us lockers.

By the way, is it actually harmful to place the laptop on our lap? Aside that it isn’t ergonomic?

0 votes

kumar raja

These tips is very useful and helpful to me because i am facing lot of problems by using laptop

0 votes

Yang Yang Li

So this is why I have been suffering for the past two months! My desktop broke and I had been using my labtop.

0 votes

Stephanie w

This is a good list of tips. I’m curious – where you would get a laptop stand like that? I’ve only ever seen the ones that put the laptop on an angle (rather than being a platform), which I can’t use.

0 votes

Nikhil Chandak

these tips would definitely help me ..

0 votes

Nikhil Chandak

Now , I am in comfort with my laptop
;)

0 votes

Tashfi Neutron

Really Useful tips man! Thanks

0 votes

Grr

Connecting a laptop to external monitor/keyboard is a pain, as I would have to remove it very often for using on bed, etc.

So the only option is to keep using it the same way.

Useful for someone who has a docking station.

0 votes

Félix S. De Jesús

Backpack Backpack…

0 votes

Theresa Banks

Great suggestions for someone who is constantly having back problems from working on my laptop. I need to keep this article as a reminder. Thanks

0 votes

Keith D.

Some thought put into this article! Great, practicle ideals put forth. Great article! Thanks.

0 votes

Ruthie Ruston

Good article with good tips. I use a backback every day.

0 votes

dragonmouth

If I have to carry a laptop stand, external keyboard, mouse and monitor when I travel, the entire purpose of a laptop is defeated..

0 votes

Robbie Pence

I think the point is for extended home use. I’m using my laptop to type this with an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse at my desk in a dorm. I just unplug those things and go whenever I want to be mobile.

0 votes

Jude A

This tip is very helpful. i am a field man i carry my laptop around most of the time.

0 votes

Tan Nguyen Nhat

Thank for your post! It’s a very useful tips for who love tech!

0 votes

Tarek Ramadan

stretch every 30-45 minutes is the most important thing

0 votes

Josue Aguilar

I needs to have a discipline to do it, but the results are amazing all have to tray it it is difficult at the beginning but one have to get use to it there is no other way. It is about our health is better to stop for few minutes doing the routine that have to stop for long time due to incapacity prescribed by the doctor. At least think about the expensive bills that we can save just by following these simple steps. That can encourage many ones.

0 votes

Joel A. Greenverti

Or you could use an electro motorized kind of contraption to exercise your abs while your on your comp? Just a thought! :D

0 votes

Rigoberto Garcia

I use 5 minutes Break, excelent aid to take rest. Now reading your recomendation: Workplace Exercises. Thanks Matt.

0 votes

Félix S. De Jesús

It is not a good habit for a laptop user, to change from the keyboard integrated to the laptop, to desktop keyboard. (I had to use it, because of a wet tissue for cleaning my keyboard, 27 keys are now dead)

However, using the keyboard can improve your posture.

And I Love backpacks b/c i can’t get the pain in one of the shoulders.