If laptops are so great, what is the wrong with them? Even laptop manufacturers provide warnings and information concerning the ergonomic issues associated with laptop use.
The main problem with laptops is that, since laptops do not have a detachable display and keyboard, there is no posture that is correct while using them. The figures below illustrate potential postures and their related problems.1
In the first position, the user has the laptop in the lap, which facilitates good arm position, but the user"s head is dropped, causing muscle tension in the back, neck, shoulders and chest. In the second position, the laptop is on a "standard" surface that is too low for comfortable viewing, and too high for upper body comfort while typing. Notice that the hands are higher than the elbows, the wrists are resting on the edge of the work surface, and the low back is not supported. This position increases risk for injury to the neck, back, elbows, and wrists.
If you observe someone using a laptop computer, you will likely see a variation of one of these postures. Any time spent in an awkward, forceful position pictured above will increase the likelihood of future chronic pain. Griffin1 points out that new environments where laptops can be used pose additional problems:
• The furniture in hotel rooms, trains, cars, or planes, and at home, is invariably inadequate for laptop use.2
• Lighting conditions are often not adjusted for computer(laptop) use. Therefore, glare, combined with improper viewing angle and lack of display adjustability, often results in awkward posture.
• The narrow viewing angle of Liquid Crystal Displays (LCD) is poorly suited to sharing, discussion, and collaboration with multiple people.
Another problem with the laptop is the small keyboard and pointing device that is awkward or less than optimal for the user. For many people, the small keyboard requires harmful hand positions.
If you use a laptop for extended periods of time, please use an external keyboard and mouse at the appropriate height.
Although the design of laptop computers has not changed to allow more comfort for the user, there are new devices being developed which make them less awkward and harmful in some environments. We will be discussing some ways to make laptops work better with your body in the next article.