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Working From Home Laptop Ergonomics

By Mary Stoliker, OTR/L, MS, CHT

During this time of the “Stay Well At Home” order, many of us are working from our places of residence. We no longer have access to the large computer screen, ergonomic mouse, appropriate-height desk and comfy high back office chair. In many cases, we are relegated to using our trusty old laptops, oftentimes on our laps, on the dining room table or in a myriad of other poorly suited surfaces for ergonomics.

“What exactly is ergonomics?”, you may ask. Good question. Ergonomics is an applied science concerned with designing and arranging items people use so they interact with them in the most efficient and safe way possible. It also can be defined as the science of fitting the work to the user instead of forcing the user to fit the work.

If you are using a laptop computer at home, there are a number of risk factors involved:

Arm and Neck Positioning

If you position your hands and arms in a relaxed/neutral position, then the screen is located below eye level causing you to bend the neck to view the screen. Also, if you position the screen appropriately (at or just below eye level) the keyboard is located entirely too high leading to elevation of the shoulders and excessive flexion of the elbows and/or wrists.

Pointing Device

Often, our laptop computers are fitted with a touch pad located on the front edge and center of the device. The touch pad use typically leads to using one finger repetitively in small movements and includes positioning of the arm at an angle in front of your body.

Work Surface

Our laps and other makeshift surfaces may not be an appropriate height for resting keyboards on. Consider investing in a laptop stand. A laptop stand raises the laptop off your lap, bringing its display closer to eye level. This might sound trivial but your back and neck will thank you. Combined with a wireless keyboard and mouse, a laptop stand comes as close it gets to emulating an actual desktop PC experience that you are used to at the office.

Seating

This is a huge issue in the home environment.  If you are like me, I tend to sit either on the couch with my feet up or at the dining room table.  Neither of these sitting surfaces offer proper positioning nor adequate support.  When reclining on my couch, I tend to sit with my neck bent forward to look at the screen and my arms stretched out to reach the keyboard. That means my heavy 15 pound head is teetering forward on my spine, straining the muscles to hold it in place.

So, given all this negative information about home set ups, what can we do to make our home “offices” more ergonomically acceptable?

Your Workspace Should Meet This Criteria:

  1. Take that laptop off your lap!!!
  2. Sit with your feet flat on the floor and hips at a 90 degree angle.
  3. When your arms are down at your side, the keyboard should be placed at the level of your elbow or slightly lower and keep your wrists fairly flat. To achieve this, a separate keyboard may be needed.
  4. When looking at the screen, the top of the screen should be at eye level so that your neck is straight and not bending forward. Ideally, connect a separate monitor to your laptop.
  5. Last but not least – do not forget to take frequent breaks to stretch and move around.

In most situations, people find relief using these techniques. However, if the pain persists and symptoms do not improve after trying these options, it may be time to see an orthopedic specialist. To learn more about treatment options or to schedule an appointment with a physician or therapist, call us at 800.698.1280.

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