A patient of mine works for a large consulting firm here in Washington DC, where long hours and significant time spent traveling are the norm. Upon visiting this patient’s office for an ergonomic consultation, one thing struck me as odd: nearly all of the employees at this firm were using laptop computers rather than desktop computers at their workstations.
Desktops are becoming less popular than laptops for the simple reason that desktops are not portable. Employers get an added benefit from workers that can work from the office, home, and on the road.
Even though laptops are becoming the more practical choice for companies, is there a down side to making this transition?
Companies may be incurring an unforeseen cost in providing laptops to employees. The strain that is imparted on the neck, shoulder, and arms is arguably much greater for the laptop user than it is for the desktop user. Injuries cost money, and the laptop user should be aware of the ergonomic faults involved in using their computers.
The laptop user is faced with one of two scenarios, both of which have a negative impact.
1. When the laptop keyboard is in an ideal position, placed in front of the user with the elbows resting comfortably at the sides, the head must look downward to properly look at the screen. Bending the neck forward in a sustained position is problematic for obvious reasons.
2. If the laptop screen is placed in a higher position to allow a neutral neck posture, the arms must be working in a raised and forward position. Overuse strain to the tendons in the wrist, hand, and elbow are often the result of this sustained posture.
My advice to the chronic laptop user is as follows: purchase yourself an external keyboard as they are inexpensive. If you are required to spend extended time using a laptop, place the screen in a raised position in front of you and keep the external keyboard in your lap. If you spend significant time with your laptop at your workstation, consider also purchasing a separate larger monitor which can be properly positioned and can help minimize both eye strain and neck strain.
I am finding that some employers actually have “docking stations” for laptops with wireless external keyboards and mouses. If you use a laptop at work, ask your employer about purchasing this type of set up. Use the argument that better ergonomic positioning equates to lower healthcare costs for the employer and fewer workman’s compensation claims.