Laptops have revolutionized the way people work. Due to their size, portability, and battery power, laptops can be used anywhere in the world. Despite their convenience, laptops may actually be hurting us much more than we realize.
Have you ever stopped to take a look at how you are sitting when you are using your laptop? Be it on your lap, on your kitchen table, on an airplane, or at your work desk, you most likely will find yourself huddling over the attached keyboard and looking down at your screen.
These nifty devices cause such horrible posture, poor ergonomics, and ultimately a myriad of musculoskeletal problems, most notably in the form of back pain.¹
Laptop design as a cause of back pain
As you have experienced, laptops are very convenient due to the fact that the mouse and keyboard are attached to the computer screen.
What does this mean to us? Sure, we can pack a whole computer into a small bag and take it anywhere we go. But this also means we cannot customize the laptop user experience to work with each individual person’s unique posture, shapes, and sizes.
A laptop is made the same size for a 6-foot person as it is for a 5-foot person.
Not having the ability to separate the screen from the keyboard means you have to sit much closer to the laptop in order to reach the keyboard and mouse.
And, since the keyboard, mouse, and screen are connected, this means you also have to look down at the screen since you are unable to bring the screen to your appropriate eye level.
Compare that to a desktop computer where you can sit comfortably in a chair with the keyboard and mouse pulled in close to you with the screen at the appropriate eye level for you.
Having to look down at the screen and lean in towards the keyboard causes a significant forward head posture, increasing stress and strain to your neck and mid back, as well as constant slouching through your entire spine.
What exactly is forward head posture?
Forward head posture is a way to describe a positioning that many sedentary people adopt through use of laptops or other electronic devices.
In the picture on the left you can see an example of great posture. On the right, this picture is demonstrating forward head posture.
With use of a laptop, one must lower their eyes and shove their head forward to see the screen.
How can this cause back pain?
Well, this posture places a lot of stress on the muscles of the jaw, neck, and upper back.
You can even see how the shoulders round forwards, tightening the chest muscles as well.
The longer you sustain this posture, the more pulling and rounding you will have throughout the entire spine, placing increased stress on the muscles, ligaments, and joints, potentially leading to pain and injury.²
If you think about how heavy your head is, around 5kg or 11 pounds, then it is easy to imagine how much stress is added to your spine the more your head moves forward, away from your center of mass. In fact, for every inch your head moves forwards, it gains another 10 pounds. This means the muscles of your spine have to work that much harder to keep your chin from dropping onto your chest.
That is a lot of added weight and stress to your spine!
What can you do to improve your laptop induced forward head posture?
While it would be awesome to do away with laptops, it is just not that simple. Even though laptops have caused a lot of pain, they do offer so many benefits.
We just need to be smarter about how to use them. There are several tools available to improve the user experience, decrease forward head posture, and to eliminate back pain.
Here are the 4 issues with laptops and the tools you can use to improve back pain!
1. The height of your screen is going to be too low to maintain good posture.
To fix this you can set your laptop on a desk with a large textbook or sturdy box underneath. You may even purchase a laptop stand, that will look more professional, to elevate your screen.
If you are in a position that allows you to leave your laptop on a desk for prolonged periods of time, you may even buy an external screen. This will increase the height and the size of your screen.
Unfortunately, if you are using the laptop at home on the couch, you may not be able to place the laptop onto a stand. However, even a few pillows under the laptop can help to elevate the screen, decreasing how far you have to slouch down in order to improve your ability to see the screen.
2. The keyboard is not in the best position for you to have good posture. Since the keyboard is attached to the screen, you may not be able to place your elbows at a 90-degree bend with your wrists in a neutral, comfortable position.
To improve the use of your keyboard, you can purchase either a wired or wireless keyboard. This will allow you to have your laptop screen in a better position for your eyes while allowing you to set the keyboard up into an ergonomically friendly position for your shoulders, elbows, and wrists.
3. The mouse is also attached to the keyboard and screen! Same as with the keyboard situation, you will not be able to use the mouse while keeping your elbow at a 90-degree bend with your wrist in a neutral, comfortable position.
You can also purchase a wired or wireless mouse that will allow you to place it in a more comfortable and ergonomic position for your body.
4. If you are unable to change much about your laptop, you can always improve the chair you are sitting on.
Your chair design can play a large role in your posture, including forward head posture, and back pain. If you are using a laptop, in a less than ideal posture with a horrible chair, then you are definitely set up for failure.
Instead of using a standard chair that has no support or is not the right size for your body, you should invest in a more ergonomically friendly chair. Active sitting chairs are a great option for when you are stuck using a laptop. Since you have to move around a lot more in order to stay comfortable while using a laptop compared to using a desktop, you will want a chair that will move with you, while still supporting you.
The Symbiotic Chair is an active sitting chair that actually has a balance mechanism built into it. This allows you to move your body around, using your own muscles for support, while improving your posture. Plus, the chair still provides adequate support through solid chair and back rest that provides comfortable counter support.
Now as you lean in closer to the screen, overextend your arms to reach the keyboard, or lean back for a break from the screen, you can have a chair that will support you in all positions.
So, if you are stuck using a laptop, try using any of the above external devices and try changing your chair. The benefits are countless, but especially through improving your posture and relieving back pain.