How To Maintain A Healthy Posture When Working On Laptop

by: Scott Pierce (founder, blogger & ergonomic consultant)

Combining the screen and keyboard into one very lightweight unit – a.k.a laptop – is perhaps the best thing that ever happened in the computer world.

Unfortunately, while the clamshell construction design of a laptop works in achieving the ultimate goal of excellent mobility, it also tends to break virtually all the rules regarding computer use ergonomics.

How to maintain healthy posture when working on laptop

By placing a laptop on your laps, it’s automatic that the screen is too low. This forces you to slouch down and crane your head downwards to see the screen.

Resultantly, you place tons of pressure on your back thereby straining the ligaments and muscles. Of course, this might not be an issue if you use your laptop for just a few minutes every day, but in times when laptops have taken over as the main desktop for most people, it’s not surprising that work-related spinal, shoulders, and lower back pains and injuries are currently on the rise.

The good news is that this is something that can be rectified without giving up the convenience and versatility of a laptop.

You only need to understand how to set up the laptop properly for prolonged use and sit correctly. Here are a few tips on how to do this.

How To Set Up Your Laptop On A Desktop

A laptop is meant to sit on your lap- that we

all know. But perhaps what most people don’t understand is that the laptop is not meant to sit there for several hours.

If you use a laptop as your main computer, or if you use it for several consecutive hours each day, then it’s time you set it up correctly on your desktop for heavy-duty use.

Get It Off Your Laps

A good part of the neck, upper shoulder and lower back pains that arise as a result of prolonged wrong use of a laptop are mainly caused by poor sitting postures.

Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to maintain a neutral sitting posture when using a laptop. This is because its position on the laps naturally makes your upper body (head, neck, shoulders, chest, and arms) to collapse uncomfortably as you get drawn to the screen. There is also a temptation to cross your legs underneath which further elevates the problem.

The first step towards maintaining a neutral posture is to place the laptop on a desk. The essence of this is to lift the screen up and to make it easy to view the screen without craning the neck forward.

When positioning the laptop on the desk, you need to ensure that it is directly in front of you and preferably at an arm’s length away.

A common mistake that most people make when positioning a monitor on the desk is to place it such that their eyes land at the center of the screen. As a result, they have to constantly bend their necks up and down which could lead to mild strains and pain down the road.

Ideally, the top line of the screen should be 2-3’’ above the eye level so that only your eyes tilt slightly to explore the entire screen. To achieve this, you might want to grab a laptop riser stand.

As a side note, placing the laptop a few inches higher automatically forces you to hold your neck upright- something that most people struggle with when using a computer.

If your budget doesn’t allow you to splurge on a laptop stand right away, you could use several empty box files, a stack of books, or reams of papers.

When you use laptop as a main computer you often maintain incorrect posture
When you use laptop as a main computer you often maintain incorrect posture for many hours per day, and it may lead to back soreness and problems with blood circulation if you also cross your legs, and work on a bed or sofa

Get A Separate Keyboard And Mouse

Having positioned the screen at an eye level, it’s pretty obvious that the keyboard and mouse pad will be too high and might create another ergonomic issue if you try to overreach them.

That being said, you’ll need a separate set of these 2. How you place the separate keyboard and mouse also matters a lot. As a rule of thumb, they should be placed at elbow height and alongside each other. They also need to be right in front of you.

Best Position To Sit When Using Laptop For Many Hours Per Day

How you set your laptop, keyboard, and mouse on the desktop is one thing, and how you sit is another. The best way to sit for long hours when using a laptop is the neutral posture. This is a position whereby your spine is naturally aligned and not twisted and the joints are not bent too.

The essence of adapting the neutral sitting position is to allow adequate circulation throughout the body while minimizing pressure buildup along the back which could lead to muscular disorders.

Unfortunately, as healthy as the neutral sitting position is, it doesn’t come naturally. As a matter of fact, this is something that most people will need to learn. Here are a few tips on how to maintain a neutral position when working on a laptop for long hours.

Working on laptop for multiple hours per day may strain your neck and lead to a lot of pain
Learning how to maintain a good and ergonomic posture when working on a laptop is very important and may help you to avoid (or decrease) neck and back pain

1. Get the right chair 

An office chair will literally hold you ergonomically or at least remind you to maintain an upright posture. Before sitting on the seat, adjust its height so that the sitting pan is just slightly below the knee cap. This will help in ensuring that the knees are bent at a 90-degree angle

Check our article that will help you to choose the right chair for your needs (and budget).

2. Get adequate support for your back 

If your office seat has lumbar support (which is very recommendable, by the way), sit all the way back so that the support fits your natural body curve for infinite support. If your current seat doesn’t have lumbar support, you could buy a removable one for a few dollars. You could also use a pillow as you wait for your lumbar support or ergonomic chair to be shipped.

3. Keep your feet resting flat either on the floor or on an anti-fatigue mat

If the chair is too high for you, add a foot stool. You should be always able to keep your feet flat on the floor (or a stool), and your knees at 90 degree angle.

4. Adopt good sitting posture

Keep on reminding yourself to maintain it.

5. Avoid overreaching

It’s better to stand up or roll on a chair to get something that strain your back, neck and shoulders by overreaching.

6. Switch from sitting to standing

Avoid sitting for prolonged periods. Experts advise taking breaks after every 1 hour, taking a walk, and even switching to a stand desk.

Common Mistakes That People Make When Using Laptop

  • Forward-leaning in a bid to near the screen- this puts stress on your neck and spine and could lead to pain
  • Placing the laptop either too low or too high thereby straining the muscles of the neck, upper back, and shoulders
  • Failing to maintain a neutral sitting or standing posture
  • Keeping the elbows and wrists at odd angles while typing on the laptop
  • Crossing the legs
  • Working on a sofa or bed and keeping the laptop on laps for many hours
  • Overreaching things and failing to keep items of intermediate use within reach at all times
  • Sitting for several hours without breaks
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