Today, many people use their laptop as their primary computer. It's important to have your laptop set up correctly in order to avoid back pain, neck pain, and other musculoskeletal injuries or strains.
Laptops are designed with portability in mind rather than with sound ergonomic principles. Basically, if the screen is at the right height, then the keyboard is too high, and if the keyboard is in the right position, then the screen is too close and too low. Laptop touchpads and trackballs are never very user-friendly.
Given these challenges, here are 10 simple tips for the best laptop setups:
- Use a large screen. Purchase a laptop with the largest screen possible to avoid the stressful posture that results from straining to see the text on a small screen. If you still find yourself straining to see your screen, increase the font size.
- Place the screen at eye level. Ideally, set your laptop height and screen angle so you can easily view the screen without bending or rotating your neck, and put it about arm's length in front of you. To do this, you will usually need to elevate the laptop a few inches above your desk, which you can do by placing it on a stable support surface, such as a laptop stand or a thick book.
- Don't slouch. Avoid propping your laptop on top of your lap as this requires you to slouch down to see the screen. If you have to work on your lap, such as while you're on the train, at least put the laptop on top of your computer bag or briefcase so you can raise it up slightly. Be sure to utilize the tray table if one is available.
- Use a separate keyboard. When using the laptop for extended periods, use an external, full-sized keyboard with your laptop and position it at a height that allows your shoulders and arms to be in a relaxed position, with your elbows at a 90° angle when typing. Ideally, you can place the separate keyboard on a keyboard tray beneath your desk surface to help ensure that your wrists stay in a neutral (flat) position.
- Use a separate mouse. Be kind to your wrists by using an independent mouse rather than the mouse that's incorporated into your laptop keyboard. Consider placing the mouse on an adjustable-position mouse platform so you can keep it near your body and keep your wrist flat while using it.
- Recline slightly. If you can't use a separate keyboard and mouse, find a chair that allows you to recline slightly. This allows you to position the laptop keyboard and mouse with the least strain on your neck. Angle the screen slightly upward so that you can view the screen without having to bend your neck too far down.
- Prop up your feet. If you have to raise your chair so that your arms and wrists are positioned comfortably, check to see how your legs are angled. Your knees should be at about the level of your hips. If your hips are too high, you need to put a footrest or small box under your feet to prop them up and keep excess strain off your lower back.
- Make your chair work for you. The type of office chair you use is critical. Any office chair that is fully adjustable and has lumbar support will work, but you need to be sure to set it up correctly. Consider standing at a stand up desk at periods throughout your day.
- Read more: Simple Office Chair Stretch
Carry your bag across your lower back in a messenger bag style, or use a backpack with dual padded shoulder straps (and avoid draping the bag over just one shoulder). If your laptop and components weigh more than 10 lbs, a roll-along carrier is the best choice.
I realize that not all of the above tips will always be practical, but if you use your laptop daily, paying attention to how you set it up will go a long way to easing back pain and strain on your joints and muscles.
For further reading: Ten Tips for Improving Posture and Ergonomics
Laptop Computer Ergonomic Tips