Sunday, December 21, 2008

When your laptop is a big pain in the neck

Tips for avoiding pain when using a laptop ...

"Sales of laptop computers passed desktops in the United States for the first time this fall, according to market-research firm IDC.

That's bad news for backs, necks and shoulders.

“Laptops are inherently unergonomic – unless you're 2 feet tall,” says Dr. Norman Marcus, a muscle-pain specialist in New York City.

When you work at a computer, the keyboard should be at elbow height, so your upper and lower arms form an angle of 90 degrees or more and your forearms are supported by armrests. The monitor should be roughly at eye level so you can lean back in a chair with back support.

But most users simply set their laptops on a desk or table. The keyboard is too high, which makes your arms reach up, your shoulders hunch and your wrists bend down. The monitor is too low, which pulls your head and neck forward and down and puts a strain on your back.

“People think, ‘How can a mouse or a keyboard hurt you?'” says Thomas Caffrey, founder of Myofactors LLC, which does ergonomic consultations for factories and offices (including The Wall Street Journal). “But poor technique can significantly overload the anatomy over time.”

There are simple ways to make a laptop more ergonomic. The key is to separate the keyboard and the monitor so each can be placed at the proper height:

Laptop stands. Getting the monitor higher is simple. Setting it on a pile of books will do. Or you can buy stands ($20 and up) that hold your laptop vertically. Either way, you'll need a separate keyboard so your hands aren't at an impossible angle.

External keyboards. These sell for as little as $20; wireless versions for $60 and up. Logitech makes a wireless-keyboard-and-laptop-stand set for $80. A keyboard that slopes away from you provides the best angle.

Keyboard tray. Unless you're really tall, setting the keyboard at elbow level means a few inches below desk height. Attachable keyboard drawers range from $30 to $200. If your desk isn't wide or deep enough, try setting the keyboard on your lap with a small cushion under the front edge."    (Continued via, Melinda Beck)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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