Portable Computers

Adolescents use laptops for Internet surfing, gaming and also for doing most of their work anywhere. However, excessive or improper use can cause various health problems (i.e. orthopedic). For that reason, some simple guidelines should be followed.

Written by
Ilias Bellos
Occupational Physician, MITERA Hospital

However, in spite of their many benefits, portable computers, by their nature, increase the risk of developing repetitive strain injuries. As in the case of desktop computers, specific guidelines for safe and healthy use of portable computers are also available.

Risks associated with the use of portable computers are as follows:

  • The keyboard and screen are attached in one unit. Because they are unable to be adjusted independently, an ergonomic compromise is created on positioning and comfort of neck and/or the hands.
  • Laptops are often used in cramped spaces compromising posture.
  • Laptop keys are smaller than traditional, desk-top keyboards causing the potential for increased hand and finger strain.
  • Laptop screens are typically smaller than standard causing potential eye strain.
  • Monitors are smaller than usual and this increases the risk for tired eyes.
  • Portable equipment is heavy to carry.

These shortfalls create the risk for pain, aching and muscular fatigue in the neck, shoulders, back, elbows, wrists and hands. They also create the potential for eye strain, headaches, numbness and tingling in the arms and hands.

Basic Principles

Occasional laptop users should keep in mind that the position of the head and neck is maintained by powerful muscles. However, the users tend to compromise the position of the head and neck rather than the position of the wrists. The angle the laptop screen should be adjusted so that you can see the screen with the least amount of neck deviation:

  • Find a comfortable seat and desk to place the laptop.
  • Use various things (books, etc.) to elevate the laptop in order to adjust the screen to be at eye level.
    In the case that there is no available desk:
  • Place the laptop on your knees for the most neutral wrist posture that you can achieve.
  • Use the computer bag or books to elevate the laptop.

If you use the laptop as your primary computer, it is especially important to do the following:

  • Place the laptop on the desk in such a position that you do not need to bend your neck when looking at the screen. This may require that you elevate the laptop off the desk using a stable surface such as a computer monitor pedestal, docking station or more common items such as a pile of books.
  • Adjust the top of the screen to be at eye level.
  • Use a separate keyboard and mouse.
  • Use a mouse and a mouse-pad.
  • Follow all recommendations as regards body posture.

Ergonomic protection

Putting the following simple ergonomic adjustments into practice can help you reduce the risk of developing health problems while working on your laptop:

  • Stretch often.
  • Be aware of posture.
  • Take frequent short breaks every 20 – 30 minutes if possible.
  • Change your position often.
  • Switch the laptop position from the lap to the table every 30 minutes. Putting the laptop in your lap will relax your shoulders and putting it on the table will relax the neck and reduce eyestrain.
  • Follow the proven ergonomic positions so that the keyboard is as close as possible: 1. Keep the wrists straight, 2. Elbows should be bent at 90 degrees or slightly greater, 3. Ears, shoulders and elbows should be in vertical alignment, 4. The shoulders should be relaxed. Do not round shoulders forward or hunch them up towards the ears, 5. The head and neck should be relaxed. Do not let head drop forward out of alignment with shoulders.
  • Use proper finger positioning, typing & mousing techniques: 1. Use both hands, 2. Keep the fingers relaxed, 3. Use a light touch while typing, 4. Movements should come from the larger shoulder muscles. Do not isolate the smaller wrist and hand muscles while typing by planting the wrists down.
  • Prevent eye-strain and headaches: 1. Frequently look away from the screen and look at an object far in the distance. Follow the 30-30-30 rule that is rest the eyes for 30 seconds by looking 30 feet away for every 30 minutes of typing, 2. Frequently clean the screen using the appropriate antistatic cleaners, 3. Adjust font for color, contrast and size so that reading the screen is comfortable. If you do notice any symptoms associated with the use of the laptop (aches, etc.) stop using the computer and seek medical advise and therapy: pain is not normal and it should not be overlooked.

Beware of the laptop heat

Modern laptops run fast microprocessors that can generate a lot of heat. The heat is mainly vented out of the bottom of the laptop but ventilation effectiveness is reduced when the laptop is placed on a solid surface or on your lap. A hot laptop can be uncomfortable to use in your lap. The heat from some laptops can be enough to cause superficial skin burns, even through clothing. Literature reports the case of a 50-year old scientist, who burned his genital area after placing his laptop on his lap for an hour. Moreover, the heat from a laptop can hurt a man’s fertility.

Nowadays, portable computers (laptops) have become indispensable part of the adolescents’ daily life.