When it comes to communication and sharing information, more people today opt for the portability of laptops, tablets, and smart phones over desktop computers, despite the latter’s processing power and relative ergonomic soundness. Yet when it comes to real productivity–writing, working with spreadsheets and charts, designing or other intensive tasks–tablets and phones take a back seat to computers. We need our laptops and desktops for work.
Laptops offer a compromise between processing power and portability. Like other portable devices, however, laptops tend to encourage poor postural habits–and these habits can lead to serious physical issues down the road. Proximity of the screen to the keyboard surface is the culprit. Keep the keyboard low enough for your wrists to be straight and shoulders relaxed, and you’ll be tilting your neck/upper back too much.
But with the screen height high enough for a straight spine, you’ll be bending your wrists and tightening shoulders. So which do you prefer: spinal immobility or carpal tunnel syndrome?
Here at Creative Therapeutics, laptops are a part of our everyday work experience, too. So we’ve been experimenting with solutions to the laptop/posture dilemma. While none of them are perfect, each of them has merits.
We’ve written about the standing desk before, and it’s been something of a workplace trend. The negative effects of sitting all day have been documented, and are wide ranging and quite serious. A standing desk eliminates sitting and encourages activity (walking around, stretching, breathing, etc.). However, using a laptop with a standing desk product still means a forward bend in the upper spine. Standing for long periods without moving can also lead to tightness in the hips. People who use standing desks should make a habit of actively shifting weight from foot to foot, walking in place to engage the hips and glutes. They may also try the next solution.
Pros: Eliminates sitting. Encourages activity. Less fatigue. Good typing surface.
Cons: Upper back still bends with laptop use. Hips can become tight.
Wireless Keyboard / Mouse
Again: while the proximity of keyboard to screen on laptops makes for efficient, portable design, it’s also the source of its ergonomic problems. So forget the laptop’s keyboard–get a remote keyboard and mouse. Today a wireless keyboard and mouse are readily available and very affordable, and simple to install.
The point, here, is to elevate your laptop so that the screen is at eye level, keeping your upper spine straight; while the remote keyboard and mouse allow your elbows to bend at 90 degrees, with your wrists straight and shoulders relaxed. This is the ideal position for computer work.
Pros: Frees you from laptop keyboard, allowing laptop screen to be placed at eye level.
Cons: None (but you’ll need to replace batteries on occasion).
Single Monitor Stand
Monitor stands are recommended even for desktop computers in order to keep the screen at eye level. They are relatively affordable, and along with a wireless mouse and keyboard offer a great solution to workplace ergonomics. However, these are only useful if they are a good match for your height while seated. Of course, you can always pile some extra books or boxes to increase its height–or you can opt for the next example.
Pros: Simple, inexpensive way to position laptop at eye level. Can be used with laptop or desktop monitor.
Cons: Some are non-adjustable. Won’t work for multiple users of different height.
Adjustable Laptop Stand
Being able to adjust the height and angle at which you view your laptop is very helpful, and we found this type of stand to be the best overall solution to the problem of laptop ergonomics. Multiple users of different height can use the same stand. One of our therapists took it home and used it while sitting on the couch. Its aluminum frame is lightweight and stable, and sturdy, numbered dials around its joints allow you to precisely lock in your personal settings. Unlike many other products this is an effective stand even for those over 6 feet tall. This product is meant for use with laptops and tablets; its lightweight flexibility means it won’t work with your desktop’s monitor.
Pros: Adjustable and portable. Good for multiple users. Works for tall people.
Cons: Slightly more expensive. Does not address sitting. Lightweight design means laptop/tablet use only.
The adjustable laptop stand offers the best overall solution for working on your laptop; however, no solution is perfect. A standing desk eliminates the problems caused by sitting for long periods, but introduces others. If you work at a computer all day long, the benefits of a standing desk might outweigh those problems. If you move around during the course of your day, then a properly outfitted, ergonomically sound desk set-up could be your solution. The models we’ve highlighted are only a few. Check out their competitors, as well, for the feature set that works with your body and lifestyle. Price does not always correspond to quality; but rather than opt for the cheapest available, think of the health care costs (not to mention aches and pains) you might save by choosing something durable and appropriate.
For further reference, here is one site that has compiled standing desk reviews.