Written by Kerri Sharrard; Osteopath
With the academic year approaching, it’s a good time to think about how you study and write essays. Most students make use of laptops and/or ipads, and many use them sitting on their beds, the floor or the sofa. Unfortunately, this can cause problems. Studies (ref:Bubric, K., Hedge, A., 2016; & Obembe, A.O., Johnson, O.E., Tanimowo, T.O., Onigbinde, A.T., Emechete, A.A., ; 2013) have found that many students experience musculoskeletal pain, especially shoulder pain, associated with laptop use.
Many studies have considered the effects of laptop use on posture and the causes of musculoskeletal pain (Brink, Y., Louw, Q., Grimmer, K., Jordaan, E., 2015). One study helpfully looked at various positions students actually use when working on a laptop, and the effects on their bodies (Gold, J.E., Driban, J.B., Yingling, V.R., Komarof, E., 2012). This study noticed that the position that put the most pressure on students’ necks, shoulders, elbows and wrists was using a laptop whilst lying on one’s front. This also caused the most discomfort, especially in the neck and back. The same study looked at looked at the effects of using a laptop sitting on a sofa, with feet flat on the floor and feet up on a footstool. In these seated positions, students’ necks were flexed forwards which can lead to injury over time. Also, students’ backs were in a more c-shaped position, especially when their feet were up.
Laptop bags can play a role in these problems too. People who use singe-strap laptop bags tend to have more problems with discomfort or pain (Obembe, A.O., Johnson, O.E., Tanimowo, T.O., Onigbinde, A.T., Emechete, A.A., ; 2013). Laptop bags worn over both shoulders are usually more comfortable and less likely to cause problems.
People who utilise ergonomics are less likely to suffer from pain and/or disability associated with computer use (Baydur, H., Ergör, A., Demiral, Y., Akalın, E., 2016). It is preferable to sit at a desk when using a laptop/computer for prolonged periods. A little creativity can transform a regular desk, chair and laptop into a relatively ergonomic and fairly comfortable workstation, reducing the likelihood of upper back, neck and arm pain.
Let’s start with the desk. The top of your screen should be at approximately eye brow level, to prevent you needing to bend your neck forwards. This is not the case if you wear varifocals, in which case your screen will need to be lower. It should also be approximately arm’s length away from you. I hear you asking me how this works with a laptop; you make use of some of those large textbooks to pile up under your laptop until it is the right height. Now the question is how you type with your laptop up there. The answer is simple (and not too expensive): a separate keyboard that you plug into your laptop. Both the keyboard and screen should be directly in front of you, with the keyboard close enough that your hands just land on it. In an ideal situation, the table/chair should be a height where your forearms land comfortably on the table for support, without bending down.
Now onto the chair. A chair with a backrest is preferable. It doesn’t need to be fancy, you can use a towel or rolled up pillow, or basic (cheap) back support available online to provide support for your low back. Your feet should be flat on the ground or if they don’t reach the ground comfortably, rest them on a box. Your feet should be further forward than your knees to allow good circulation to your lower legs.
There are some great images on google that demonstrate ergonomic workstation posture. Happy laptop use, and stay pain free.