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laptop ergonomicsLaptops 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

laptop ergonomics

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.

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Use An External Monitor

best laptop ergonomics

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

best laptop ergonomics

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

best laptop ergonomics

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

laptop ergonomics

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

  1. amine30
    January 12, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    that was really helpful,i agree with all of your tip,thank you

  2. Félix S. De Jesús
    November 10, 2012 at 6:30 am

    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.

  3. Rigoberto Garcia
    November 2, 2012 at 9:02 pm

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

  4. Joel A. Greenverti
    November 1, 2012 at 5:48 pm

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

  5. Anonymous
    November 1, 2012 at 1:28 am

    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.

  6. Tarek Ramadan
    October 30, 2012 at 11:20 pm

    stretch every 30-45 minutes is the most important thing

  7. Tan Nguyen Nhat
    October 30, 2012 at 3:11 pm

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

  8. Anonymous
    October 30, 2012 at 3:00 pm

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

  9. dragonmouth
    October 29, 2012 at 9:13 pm

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

    • Robbie Pence
      October 30, 2012 at 8:50 pm

      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.

  10. Ruthie Ruston
    October 29, 2012 at 8:12 pm

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

  11. Keith D.
    October 29, 2012 at 6:27 pm

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

  12. Theresa Banks
    October 29, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    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

  13. Félix S. De Jesús
    October 28, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    Backpack Backpack...

  14. Grr
    October 28, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    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.

  15. Tashfi Neutron
    October 28, 2012 at 11:11 am

    Really Useful tips man! Thanks

  16. Nikhil Chandak
    October 28, 2012 at 8:55 am

    Now , I am in comfort with my laptop
    ;)

  17. Nikhil Chandak
    October 28, 2012 at 8:54 am

    these tips would definitely help me ..

  18. Stephanie w
    October 28, 2012 at 12:20 am

    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.

  19. Yang Yang Li
    October 27, 2012 at 5:55 pm

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

  20. kumar raja
    October 27, 2012 at 12:34 pm

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

  21. Lisa Santika Onggrid
    October 27, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    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?

  22. druv vb
    October 27, 2012 at 9:43 am

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

  23. Anonymous
    October 26, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    haha this article is surely for me :p

  24. Alex Perkins
    October 26, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    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.

  25. Somaiya Ebrahim
    October 26, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    i use my laptop in bed.. :)

    • Matt Smith
      October 26, 2012 at 7:45 pm

      I hope it's not overheating

      • Somaiya Ebrahim
        October 27, 2012 at 3:50 pm

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

  26. iceman
    October 26, 2012 at 6:57 pm

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

  27. Robert Ruedisueli
    October 26, 2012 at 6:32 pm

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

  28. Lee
    October 26, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    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).

    • Matt Smith
      October 26, 2012 at 7:46 pm

      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.

      • Lisa Santika Onggrid
        October 27, 2012 at 12:21 pm

        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.

    • Lisa Santika Onggrid
      October 27, 2012 at 12:18 pm

      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.

  29. Adrian Rea
    October 26, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    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.

  30. Efi Dreyshner
    October 26, 2012 at 4:45 pm

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

    Thanks (:

    • salim benhouhou
      October 26, 2012 at 10:23 pm

      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 .

      • Efi Dreyshner
        October 26, 2012 at 10:52 pm

        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.

      • Yang Yang Li
        October 27, 2012 at 5:53 pm

        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.

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