Ergonomics For Laptop Users

3 Steps to Save Your Neck

Ergonomics For Laptop

Do you use a laptop? There’s a good likelihood you do – but even if you use a desktop computer, this article still applies to you. It’s about improving your ergonomics – your workstation environment – to fit YOU. The problem with laptops is that they are small and the screen is fit to the keyboard, so you either have to look down at your lap, or set the computer up high, forcing you to have to reach up to use it. Either way isn’t ideal.

Hang tight though…there is a better way…

Laptop Use Is On The Rise

Laptop computers are becoming more and more popular. As technology continues to improve, today’s laptops pack as much power and performance as you would ever need into a razor thin design.

According to recent polls, 76% of all adults own some kind of computer. 59% own a desktop and 52% own a laptop. Desktops are more popular among adults aged 35-65, while laptops are more popular with younger adults1.

I don’t really see it possible in this day in age to get through college without owning a laptop. Professors have required materials and assignments in electronic format, much of which is online.

So it is with many working professionals today, that employers expect them to not only work in the office, but to also have the option to crank out some extra work from home – enter the laptop.

You get the point – laptops are everywhere.

…So Is Neck Pain

Ever notice your neck hurting after 30 minutes or so of using your laptop?

Most people experience some level of neck pain. In fact, 54% of people report they’ve experienced neck pain in the last 6 months. Up to 70% of people will have neck pain at some point in their lives2.

What do these statistics tell me? Two things:

  1. A lot of people experience neck pain
  2. A majority of people who have experienced neck pain have had it recently

Laptop Use and How It Can Cause Neck Pain

I see a trend here, do you?

There are other factors to blame, for sure, one being cell phone use – but that discussion requires an entire future post (stay tuned).

Let me explain the correlation:

In case you were curious, your head is roughly the size and weight of a bowling ball – 10-12 pounds.

When your head is directly over your shoulders, your spine in its neutral curvature, there is 10-12 pounds of force upon the spine and 10-12 pounds that your muscles have to hold up so your head doesn’t fall to the ground – that would be bad.

When you increase the angle at which you look down, let’s say to 30 degrees, there is now 40 pounds of force upon your spine. At 60 degrees, this increases to 60 pounds of force3!

This may not seem like much in the moment, but over time, imagine what 60 extra pounds of force will do to your neck!

The problem with laptops is that we often look down at the screen.

For myself, I tend to work the most with my laptop set atop my kitchen table.  Sometimes, when I’m just opening it up to check something real quick, I’ll just sit on the couch and have it on my lap.  When it’s on my lap, I have to look down quite a bit further to see the screen. But even when I’m at the table, my head is still angled downward and there is still excessive pressure on my neck.  And after an hour or two, I can definitely feel it.

…or I should say, I could feel it.  That is, until I made a few changes…

Get my eBook, Why You Have Bad Posture and How To Make It Better, to learn all about tight and weak muscles that could be contributing to your poor posture – plus 16 step-by-step exercise instructions and photos!

Better Ergonomics For Laptop Users

A seemingly logical alternative would be to elevate the laptop so the screen is at eye level – problem solved!

True, but now you have to reach your hands up to shoulder height to be able to use the thing – this creates a whole new problem.

My recommendation is to do what I recently did and buy 3 items that will solve the problem and essentially turn your laptop into a portable desktop computer. Here they are:

  1. A Laptop Stand to elevate the computer screen to eye level

AmazonBasics Ventilated Adjustable Laptop Stand

  1. A Wireless Keyboard to keep at close reach with elbows at your side

AmazonBasics Wireless Keyboard

  1. A Wireless Mouse to keep at a close reach, as well

AmazonBasics Wireless Mouse

A few cool benefits of these products*:

  • They are all portable
  • They are all wireless with Bluetooth and work seamlessly
  • They are affordable – all three cost about $50

Make The Change, Save Your Neck

Yes, I myself started utilizing this setup recently.  The photo at the head of this post is my own.  I can honestly say that these products have made a dramatic difference in my comfort as I work on my laptop.

My sister-in-law works from home most of the time and uses a laptop for hours on end. Like me, she sits at her kitchen table to work. She also complains often of neck pain. For Christmas this last year, my wife and I got her the three above items and she loves them. She told me last week that she’s been having much less neck pain and can work longer without having to take breaks (I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing).

A few simple adjustments to your workstation can dramatically improve your laptop ergonomics and save you a massive pain in the neck.

Question: Where do you usually use your laptop? What does your setup look like? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

*Full Disclosure: these are affiliate products, which means that I earn a small commission (we’re talking pennies on the dollar) for each sale.  This does not mean you have to pay more for the products – your price remains the same.  It’s a win-win for both of us!  I only recommend products that I believe in and that I personally use.  As much fun as it is, it costs me money to keep this website going…not to mention multiple hours of my time each week…  a few cents here and there is fair compensation, wouldn’t you say?

  1. Zickuhr, Kathryn. Generations and Their Gadgets. Pew Research Center February 3, 2011. ↩︎
  2. Childs JD, Cleland JA, Elliott JM, Teyhen DS, Wainner RS, Whitman JM, Sopky BJ, Godges JJ, Flynn TW. Neck Pain: Clinical practice guidelines linked to international classification of functioning, disability, and health form from the orthopaedic section of the American physical therapy association. 2008. 9(38): A1-A34. ↩︎
  3. Hansraj, KK. “Assessment of stresses in the cervical spine caused by posture and position of the head. Surg Technol. Int. 2014. 25: 277-9. ↩︎
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  • Theresa

    This is a much needed article although for me it’s a bit late as I have already developed a reverse curve thanks to poor posture and EMR at work causing me to do all my documentation on a mini laptop! When documenting love in the gym, these three products can’t really be used however at home, I know use my laptop via Apple TV so my screen is projected onto my 37″ TV. That being said however, I did not think about adding on the wireless keyboard and mouse so I will definitely be adding those components to my home set up. Still not quite sure how to work around the issue at work though but perhaps some experimenting is in order. Thanks!

    • Michael Curtis

      Theresa, I really like the idea of utilizing the Apple TV! At work, could you set the mini laptop up at eye level and then bring the wireless keyboard and mouse?

  • Andy

    Here’s another great, inexpensive Bluetooth keyboard:

    I’ve been using it for about a year and no complaints thus far.

  • Andy

    Forgot to mention, price is ~$13

  • Cydney Allsbrook

    As a long time PT (34 years) I’m very familiar with neck pain and have personally used and recommended these solutions. However, now with companies that demand use of I-Pads (Not compatible with any mouse) do you have any suggestions?

    • Michael Curtis

      Cydney, you’re right the iPad is being utilized more and more often. The wireless keyboard does work for typing purposes. To put the iPad in a better position for use with your fingers, I’d recommend a stand such as this one:

      AmazonBasics Adjustable Tablet Stand