Health Team

Laptops can go ergonomic

Posted April 1, 2009

— Adding a few devices and making some simple changes to a workstation can alleviate physical problems – such as numb fingers, a sore back or neck – caused by prolonged use of laptop computers.

Caroline Rourk, an office worker at Duke University, enjoyed the benefits of using a light, mobile laptop. But about five months ago, she started having numbness in her fingers.

Tamara James, Duke's director of ergonomics, spotted Rourk's problem immediately: She rested her arm on the corner of her desk, pressing on the ulnar nerve and causing the temporary numbness.

Laptops can go ergonomic Small changes can make laptops more ergonomic

Spending lots of time in that position can cause carpal tunnel syndrome, pain and weakness in the hand, James said.

"The big problem with laptops is that they are really designed for short-term use, but we're using them for long periods of time," she said.

For Rourk, the prescription was relatively simple: get an external keyboard and mouse, put her mouse at elbow level and screen at eye level. To relieve strain on her hand from using a mouse, she can also use her other hand to operate it on occasion.

"I have noticed some improvements since I started using the keyboard," Rourk said.

James said that computer users should also make sure that when they sit at their desk, their thighs are parallel to the ground. Desk chairs should have an adjustable height and adjustable back for lumbar support. The seat of James' also slides in and out, allowing for greater comfort.

Even with the right chair, though, sitting for hours can get uncomfortable. James' workstation can be raised and lowered, allowing her to stand and keep working.

"Even I just do this for five or 10 minutes, I'm giving my back a break by getting out of the chair," James said.

Ergonomic improvements with laptops and desk are worthy investments for both businesses and employees, she said.

"Employees are happier. They're more comfortable. They're more productive," James said.


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  • kcfoxie Apr 3, 2009

    Integrate the computer into the vehicle better. Have the computer screen projected onto the windshield (there are cars that do this with vehicle data, like warnings and speed), the keyboard can be standard sized and sit in the driver's lap.

    This would, if course, be more expensive than the $240 pedistal mount and a standard Dell laptop (what they have now).

  • angora2 Apr 3, 2009

    How about hotel rooms? The desks are higher than many and the chairs don't adjust, but it's all you have to work with. I will consider taking my wireless keyboard and mouse along next time, though!

  • RPD07 Apr 2, 2009

    Now try and come up with something that will work in a police car. Sitting for 12 hours with no lumbar support, knees greatly higher than they should, and twisting to the right to type on a computer. Also, computer at stomach level and then a lot of night time use without using interior lights (safety risk).

    How do you solve that??