Laptops are many things: convenient, portable, and becoming more powerful with each new generation. But one thing they certainly are not ergonomic and kind to your body. Here’s how to painlessly enjoy your laptop in just three steps.
Why are laptops so hard on your body?
To see why laptops are hard on our bodies, let’s start by describing what an ergonomically ideal workstation looks like for most people.
Ideally, you should be sitting with your feet flat on the floor or on a footrest so that your knees are at or slightly below hip level. Your back is well supported with a slight recline. Your keyboard and mouse are on a desk or tray surface, allowing you to keep your elbows at a 90-degree angle.
Your wrists are flat or, with the tray, even droop slightly with a negative tilt. The computer screen is an arm’s length away and elevated so that, with your neck and shoulders relaxed in a neutral position, your eye level is right at the top of the monitor, plus or minus a few inches.
All of that is nothing like what using a laptop looks like. When you use a laptop on your lap, the keyboard (and mouse via the built-in trackpad) is too low and close to your body, so you pull your arms too close and bend your wrists at an angle that can lead to syndrome. carpal tunnel and other repetitive stress injuries.
The screen is too low, so you have to tilt your head forward and down. Long before people called neck pain that results from prolonged forward extension of the neck “text neck,” many people experienced it by working long hours on their laptops.
You end up clutching your arms awkwardly, bending your wrists, rounding your back, and overextending your neck. This laptop pose creates multiple potential pain points from the hips and lower back, up through the shoulders and neck, and down through the arms to the wrists. Even raising the laptop to a table of suitable height with a good chair only partially alleviates the problem.
Now, we get it. The appeal of the laptop is that, well, you can put it on your lap anywhere want. You can sit in a lounge chair on your deck during the work day, enjoying some warm weather as a perk of your work-from-home gig. You might take your laptop to a coffee shop to get out of the house, or listen to some background noise when the work day seems too quiet.
Doing those things from time to time is not a problem, and we would never recommend you only Use your laptop in a prescribed and ergonomically perfect way. But it’s better to save those moments to use your laptop in the field and set up your home or office workspace so it won’t bother your back or wrists.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at how to adjust your laptop’s settings for maximum comfort and minimum wear and tear on your poor body.
How to make any laptop more ergonomic on the cheap
You can go crazy and invest in a lot of cool accessories to improve the ergonomics of your laptop to the point of using less of a laptop and more of a complete workstation with a laptop as a replacement for a desktop tower.
But if you’re looking to go from “I have a lot of aches and pains while using my laptop” to “What aches and pains?” with minimal expense, there are only three steps. In fact, depending on what you have around the house, these three steps may not cost you anything.
To get up from the sofa
If you’re guilty of using your laptop primarily on the couch, you’re doing a number on your body. Whether you like to stretch out to your length, with your laptop propped against your legs, or sit and slouch over the coffee table, it’s murder on your neck and back (and it doesn’t do your wrists any favors, either).
You need a flat, sturdy surface with a good chair that allows you to have your feet flat on the floor and your arms and wrists level. That could be a kitchen table, a dedicated office desk, or even a folding table, but without support for your body, you’ll inevitably start to contort into odd positions. Worse, you’ll start to hold those positions and end up in all sorts of pain at the end of your work session.
If setting up a dedicated workspace isn’t in your plans and there’s no room for a comfortable new office chair, consider a mix of back and seat cushions for your kitchen chair (and a footstool, too, if your feet do not). rest comfortably on the floor).
Raise the screen to eye level
The next step is to get the laptop off the table (and definitely off your lap!) and up to eye level. When your laptop sits too low, it sets off a chain of posture problems that cause pain throughout your body.
The absolute cheapest way to raise your laptop is to use the things you have around the house as a makeshift laptop riser. You can stack old textbooks or coffee table books or use an appropriately sized shipping box. However, books are probably the ideal inexpensive solution, because they are heavy, sturdy, and can be gradually added or subtracted to adjust the height.
If plopping your MacBook on top of a classy-looking stack of books is the right vibe for your workspace, then mission accomplished. However, if you want something a little more tailored to the task, there’s no shortage of laptop stands on the market, and we can’t say enough about using a laptop stand. (Though even if you plan to buy a dedicated stand, experimenting with a stack of books is a great way to determine how tall a laptop stand you need.)
While there are plenty of good fixed-height laptop stands on the market, it’s always better to err on the side of adjustability. A really sharp looking but fixed height laptop stand isn’t worth much if it’s not the right height. You can buy inexpensive laptop stands reminiscent of cookbook stands for $20-30.
These stands tilt your laptop forward at a steep angle to raise the screen forward. They work fine for most laptops, but in some cases, your laptop may lack the palm rest/keyboard depth to get the screen up to the height you need. These cookbook-style stands rely on the body of the laptop and tilt to create the height as if the laptop were balanced on the balls of its feet.
If you want something with a wider range of adjustment, you’ll want to look at laptop stands with some sort of arm mechanism and not just a tip-forward laptop design. This model with an adjustable arm, for example, combines both the tilt function and an arm firmly anchored to a base plate.
Nulaxy Ergonomic Laptop Stand
A laptop stand with an adjustable arm and a weighted base gives you significantly more flexibility when it comes to positioning your laptop.
Even if you don’t plan on using the adjustable mount at its full range for everyday use, it’s nice to have the extra reach for specialty uses. You can, for example, choose to extend the stand to its full height during video calls so that the lens looks at you from a more flattering angle or so you can stand up and stretch your legs as if you were on camera. .
Lower the keyboard and mouse to elbow level
If you’re envisioning what your laptop will look like on a stack of books or on a dedicated stand, you’re probably thinking about how using the laptop in that elevated position will be murder for your shoulders, elbows, and wrists.
When you raise the laptop, you should simultaneously lower the keyboard and mouse to a level that is comfortable for your arms and wrists. To do so, you need an external keyboard and mouse.
I have pretty strong opinions on the benefits of using a tenkeyless keyboard to avoid sore shoulders. Add a trackball mouse and you’re way ahead in ergonomic gaming.
If all you do is raise the screen and use an external keyboard and mouse to fit your laptop to your body (rather than your body to your laptop), you’ve done more to protect your body than most users. of laptops. .
Want to make your work-from-home setup even more convenient? We’ve got even more tips on how to keep your laptop from killing your back.