Laptop computers were once used mainly by harassed business people who had to work on planes or trains, but not any more. Thanks to low prices, the rise in home working and wireless internet access, laptops are everywhere. In 2005, laptops outsold desktop computers for the first time.
About 8% of the workforce are teleworkers (working from other locations using the home as a base or working from home), according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
The HSE?s 2006 Horizon Scanning paper reports that by 2015, 70-80% of workers could be, at least partially, working away from the office.
?I’ve seen many people with neck, back and shoulder problems caused by excessive laptop use,? says Tim Hutchful, a British Chiropractic Association-registered chiropractor.
?They tend to be mobile office workers who spend a long time on the move,” he says. “However, even people who use them in the office now have a problem, because of hot-desking, which is the use of desks and seats that aren?t set up for them.
“Originally, laptops were designed to do a little bit of work on, then you?d put it on a desk and work from there. Now, more people are using their laptops as their only computer, so they?re spending longer and longer in hunched positions.?
The HSE says employers should provide docking stations if laptops are the only computers provided and workers are expected to use them at desks all day.
Good laptop health
- For sustained periods of work, use a laptop with a docking station.
- Place the laptop on a stable base and not on your lap.
- Take regular breaks to relieve upper body tension.
- Sit up straight with your lower back supported.
Bad posture is inevitable because of the way laptops are designed, says Levent Caglar, senior consultant ergonomist at the Furniture Industry Research Association (FIRA).
?The main problem is the keyboard being attached to the screen,? he says.?You need the screen at arm’s length but you need the keyboard near you, so you push the laptop further back, then your hands stretch out, then you hunch your shoulders.
“That creates bad posture. If I were designing a laptop, I?d do it with a detachable screen. The average human head weighs quite a lot. If it?s in the ideal position, balanced above the shoulders, it?s fine.
?But when you use a laptop, your ears are further forward than your shoulders. That?s like taking a weight and holding it out at arm’s length.
?The load through your spine is much greater and, even worse, it?s a static load. You?re not moving. This causes neck, upper back and arm problems.”
Tim says laptops are fine when used properly. “There are plenty of ways you can make your laptop safer and more comfortable,? he says.
Laptop use: top tips
- Use a separate keyboard and mouse so the laptop can be put on a stand and the screen opened at eye level. Alternatively, use a docking station.
- Use your laptop on a stable base where there is support for your arms, and not on your lap.
- Take regular breaks. If you?re moving, there?s a lot less stress on your muscles and joints.
- Adopt good sitting posture with lower back support and ensure other desk equipment is within reach.
- Get into good habits before the aching starts. Neck, shoulder and back problems build up over time.