Laptops should definitely be included among the top 10 wonders of the technological world, considering they have changed our digital lives dramatically. Their portability, compact design, batteries that last for several hours, processors with blazing performance, and screens sporting HD resolutions have made them a great replacement for PCs. And yet, no matter how many amazing capabilities are packed into a portable unit, personal computers will always triumph when it comes to one thing: the user’s health.
For all their convenience, portability, and mobility, laptops are slowly – and sometimes silently – killing their users. And that’s because designers are so focused on mobility they overlook an aspect of even greater importance: ergonomics. Unless you measure about two feet, working on a laptop will compromise your health in the long run.
What’s Wrong with Laptops?
For your body to be able to maintain a natural posture while sitting at a desk, your workstation should be set up as follows:
• Keyboard and mouse should be placed in a way that keeps your arms at a 90-degree angle (or below) and your elbows to your sides
• The screen should be positioned at arm’s length right in front of you so that your eyes fall on the first line of text (not the edge of the screen)
• Wrist posture should be neutral – not bending upwards or downwards while typing
• Your chair should provide lumbar support for your back and posture
• Your feet should be on the floor and not dangling in the air – for shorter persons, a footrest is recommended
When working long hours on a computer, you are exposing your body to serious health risks, including poor posture, eye strain, poor blood circulation, chronic neck pain, back pain, and others. But the harm caused to your body is even greater in the case of laptops: the biggest problem is that the screen and keyboard are connected, so they cannot be independently adjusted. You may try to place the screen at an arm’s length from your eyes, but you need easy access to the keyboard, so you push your laptop back, and then you stretch your arms, and eventually slouch your shoulders.
This is the worst possible posture to stay in for prolonged periods: in the short run, it can make your entire upper body ache, but after a while, you may start noticing more serious effects. Scientific sources claim that, after two weeks of sitting for more than 6 hours/day, your blood sugar levels go up, your muscles start to atrophy, and your oxygen consumption decreases. After one year of sedentary lifestyle, you might experience weight gain and high cholesterol levels, while 10-20 years of prolonged sitting will increase your risk of cancer and heart disease by up to 64%.
How Can You Mitigate the Risks?
1. Switch to ergonomic furniture
Ergonomic furniture is designed to effortlessly conform to the body’s shape and natural posture and reduce the likelihood of injury from muscle stress and strain. If switching to a desktop computer is not a viable option for you, consider using an external ergonomic keyboard that will prevent tension in your shoulders and allow them to relax while typing. An external ergonomic mouse will also keep your shoulders open and tension-free. If your laptop sits more in your lap than on the desk, consider purchasing a laptop holder that can be adjusted at a comfortable height for your eyes, shoulders, and neck.
2. Pause and move.
Sitting still for a long time is the worst possible thing you can do to your body. When you’re sedentary, muscle activity shuts down almost immediately, also slowing down your metabolism and causing all sorts of health problems in the long run, including diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. When you start moving, your body resumes the production of lipoprotein lipase – an enzyme responsible for burning fat for fuel – and starts burning calories at a higher rate. Researchers say that standing up once every 60 minutes is more effective than performing a strenuous workout routine at the end of the day in decreasing the risk of cardiovascular and metabolic disorders.
3. Realign your body.
The moment you lose the proper alignment of your body is the moment you start feeling pressure on your joints and muscles, mainly due to uneven weight distribution. Before seeing a chiropractor who can realign the vertebrae in their proper relationships with each other to allow your body to function optimally, there is a series of movements you can perform at home to correct your position. While standing up with your feet pointing forward, squeeze your buttocks in, tighten your abdominals, and let your hands hang naturally on each side. Stand with your feet hip width apart and try to balance your weight evenly, keeping your shoulders relaxed the whole time.
4. Save your back.
Your spine may be strong and stable in general, but when you slouch or stoop, your muscles and ligaments can no longer fulfill their function so easily. In their struggle to keep you balanced, you may experience headaches, neck and shoulder pain, and upper and low back problems. If your chair doesn’t provide appropriate lumbar support, use a pillow or a lumbar roll to ensure support of your lower back. Exercising can provide relief from numbing pain, but you shouldn’t engage in strenuous physical activity that exerts sudden stress on your back. If the pain doesn’t improve with exercising and stretching or if the flare-ups are getting worse, you should consider seeking medical attention immediately.
Ideally, you can get into these good habits before the pain starts. Standing up from your desk, stretching, or moving around the room for just a few minutes per day can have dramatic implications on your health and the quality of your life. However, if you already struggle with an aching shoulder, stiff neck, or tight and sore lower back, chiropractic care may be the easiest answer to all your aches and pains. Through localized massage and spine manipulation, your therapist will be able to readjust your spine and almost immediately restore your mobility and balance. A healthy spine is central to a healthy lifestyle, so make sure to recognize and properly address the early signs of chronic pain.
About the Author:
Dr. Marc Browner practices at Windmill Health Center in Weston, Florida. A graduate of the University of Florida, he earned his Doctor of Chiropractic degree in 1995. In private practice since 1998, Dr. Browner is a member of the Florida Chiropractic Society, the Florida Chiropractic Association, and he attends continuing education seminars, classes, and workshops to remain abreast of the most current treatment methods and technological advances in the field.