Working from a laptop at home ergonomically

With many of us working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, lots of us are faced with working from a laptop as opposed to a computer. Although this may not be the ideal set-up, there are things we can do to make working from a laptop more ergonomic. This section will explain the health risks of working from a laptop incorrectly and provide tips on working from a laptop ergonomically

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The risks of working from a laptop and not considering the correct ergonomics

Read the meaning of laptop ergonomics and its purpose

Expert tips on using a laptop ergonomically

What are the main health risks of working from a laptop?

Although laptops are a portable and convenient option for working from home, the laptop’s compact design can force us into working in an awkward posture. Working from a laptop poses the following health risks:

Neck and shoulder pain

If a screen is lower than our level, we are forced to move our head down and often further forward. This poor posture can lead to tight muscles in the neck and shoulders.

Computer vision syndrome

Hunching over and looking down at a laptop can also cause computer vision syndrome. Symptoms of computer vision syndrome can include eye strain, discomfort, sore eyes, headaches, watery eyes, dry eyes and double vision. In some cases, you can also experience sensitivity to light.

Wrist pain

Pain caused by repetitive movements is called repetitive strain injury. A common injury from working at a laptop is wrist pain. Using a laptop can feel like you are typing directly onto a hard surface. Laptops can also be difficult to position ergonomically, as they are much smaller and lower down than monitors. If the positions of your arms, forearms and hands are not ergonomically aligned with the laptop keyboard while typing, this can cause pain.

What does using a laptop ergonomically mean?

Office ergonomics is the study of ensuring our equipment fully supports our needs and prevents health risks. Laptop ergonomics addresses ways to optimise your laptop set-up to reduce the risks of related health issues. This helps you to perform to the best of your ability while staying comfortable and relaxed.

How to ergonomically use a laptop

Position your laptop at the right height

If your laptop is at the right height, your eye level should be in line with the top of the screen. As a laptop is lower down than a computer monitor, a laptop stand can be useful. For most users, the laptop will need to be raised anywhere from 12 to 25 cm to provide the proper height (source).

By using a laptop riser or ergonomic laptop stand, you will raise the laptop to a similar height as a computer monitor. Doing this will prevent you from hunching over your laptop, therefore reducing the risk of neck pain and eyestrain.

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Ensure you are also sitting at a desk that is the same height as the one you would use in a workplace. This prevents wrist pain and is an important part of an ergonomic workstation. You can read about the correct desk height here. 

Take small breaks throughout the day

As we work from home, many of us may find that our day has less structure. It can be tempting to stay in the same position for a long time; however, this increases the risk of issues such as dry eyes, neck ache and headaches. Taking small breaks allows you to stretch your muscles, give your neck a break and prevent your eyes from becoming dry. Try and get up and stretch at least once every two hours.

Don’t lean too close to a laptop

If the issue is being unable to see the font correctly, increase the font size instead of leaning closer. If you find yourself leaning forwards, ensure your chair is supportive, and the laptop is positioned at the right height. The preferred viewing distance is between 50 and 75 cm from the eye to the front surface of the laptop screen.

You can read more about the importance of posture here.

Sit in an office chair that supports the spine

Your neck should be relaxed but supported. The neck should be aligned with the spine. You should choose an ergonomic chair that maintains the spine’s natural curves. To avoid shoulder and back pain, try and avoid hunching over, keeping the shoulders relaxed.

Adjust the screen brightness

The brightness of your laptop should match the brightness of the room you are working in. When the screen is much brighter than your surroundings, your eyes are forced to adjust to the brightness. This can often cause eye strain.

Make sure your wrists are aligned correctly

Bending the wrists awkwardly causes a significant amount of strain to the carpal tunnel that carries your median nerve and the flexor tendons that allows your fingers to move. Wrist strain can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, and repetitive strain injury.

The wrists should be in a straight alignment with the forearms. To prevent pain, your forearms should be close to 90 degrees perpendicular to the elbow joint. This position is called the neutral position, as your arms are straight and relaxed.

You can read more about typing ergonomics here.

Avoid placing your laptop on your lap

At home, it may seem more comfortable to sit on a sofa and place the laptop on our lap. However, this only increases the risk of neck pain, back pain and repetitive strain injury. Always work from a desk and keep the laptop placed at the correct height.

How to improve your workstation set-up

When working from home, we may not all be able to work in the most ideal set-up. If you are working from a set-up that is uncomfortable, there are things you can do to make it more ergonomic. If you are sitting at a kitchen table for example or a chair that isn’t ergonomic, the following steps can make your laptop workstation set-up safer and more comfortable:

  • Raise your chair seat height to make your arms parallel to the table.
  • Use a footrest if you find your chair is too high. You could also use a bean bag or stool for this.
  • Use a pillow or another type of back support to improve back posture.
  • If you don’t have a laptop stand, place your laptop on top of books or another stable object

Are you worried that your home working set-up isn’t ergonomic? Shop our full range of ergonomic solutions here.