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If you've ever spent a long night curled up like a worm on your bed (or sitting slouched on the couch) with your laptop, you've probably already suffered the consequential sore shoulders and tight neck. Or, if you regularly spend hours on end typing text into your laptop, you may have noticed some pain, tightness, or tingling in your wrists or forearms. While extended computer usage of any kind can be hard on your body, prolonged laptop use can be especially hard on the user. Why? The Cornell University Ergonomics website explains as follows:
"The reason is simple - with a fixed design, if the keyboard is in an optimal position for the user, the screen isn't and if the screen is optimal the keyboard isn't. Consequently, laptops are excluded from current ergonomic design requirements because none of the designs satisfy this basic need."
Does this mean you need to toss out your new $1,200 machine? No. But if you plan to use a laptop as your primary computer, it does mean that you will need to start taking some steps right now to prevent placing undo stress and strain on your body. The corrective action required will vary, depending on whether you're an occasional or long-term user.
Some ergonomic tips
Given that most students at Cornell report being long-term users (i.e., using a laptop as their primary computer,) the the Cornell University Ergonomics website suggests the following tips:
- elevate the laptop off your work surface so that you can see the screen without bending your neck
- connect a separate keyboard and mouse to the back of your laptop or to a docking station
- pay attention to your posture
Want to know more? More specific advice on using your laptop, including arranging your workstation and doing an ergonomic assessment of your work space are provided at the following links:
- 5 Tips for Using a Laptop Computer
- Ergonomic Guidelines for Arranging a Computer Workstation- 10 steps for users
- Ergo Tips (self-assessment of the ergonomic design of your computer workstation)
- eTool offered by OSHA (illustrates simple, inexpensive principles that will help you create a safe and comfortable computer workstation)
- Setting timers for a break reminder (there are apps for that!)
Be good to your body
Learning to set up your work station correctly, taking regular breaks, and improving your posture all take time and lots of practice. If, in the meantime, you notice computer-related aches and pains, don't delay in seeking care. Believe it or not, pain is not a normal consequence of computer usage and you don't have to put up with it. Call Gannett (255-5155) and ask for an appointment with one of our clinicians. If necessary, Gannett's medical staff will refer you to our Physical Therapy Department. Physical Therapists can assist in the diagnosis and treatment of computer-related injuries, and they can make practical suggestions and give you exercises to help alleviate your discomfort.
Ask your clinician about whether physical therapy might help you heal. If s/he thinks it might help restore your comfort, flexibility, or strength, ask for a referral.