How to Setup Your Laptop for YOU and Your Body

How not to work on your laptop
After last week’s post about workstation ergonomics, I realized that many people have to be in the same situation as I am – my main computer is a laptop.  If you’re like me, and use a laptop as your primary workstation, it’s hard to get the computer in a good position for your body.

Here are the complaints that I see in my clients with extended periods of time on laptops:

  • neck pain and shoulder pain (especially on the side that’s the dominant hand used for mousing)
  • cricks in the neck
  • tingling and numbness in the hands and fingers
  • weakened strength in the hands and wrists
  • puffy, full joints in the fingers, hands and wrist in the morning
  • reduced range of motion in the neck, arms or wrists
  • headaches at the base of the skull or at the temples and forehead
  • lower back and mid back pain, especially after extended periods without breaks
  • leg pain in the hip and thigh

No one has all of these symptoms, but increased time on laptops has produced the above-mentioned issues for my clients.  If you have these issues after time on your laptop, it’s time to change your setup so you can work comfortably and minimize the strain on your body.

While you’ll never be able to get your laptop in a beneficial position for your body, you may be able to mitigate the hardship working on a laptop creates on your body with some of these tips:

  1. Decide what you’re going to be doing on the laptop, keyboarding or viewing.  If you’re largely keyboarding, setup the laptop so it’s easy for you to type.  Keep your elbows at 90 degrees.  If you’re going to be doing less keyboarding and more reading or using the monitor, raise the laptop so that the screen is at the proper viewing height.  The top of the laptop screen should be at eye level and about 20 inches from your eyes.
  2. If you’re going to work on your laptop for extended periods of time, or if your laptop is going to be your main computer, invest in an extra keyboard or mouse (or just take them from an older computer).  Plug in the laptop on a table that lets you keep your arms at 90 degrees to reach the keyboard, and mouse, and use a laptop docking station or a stack of books to raise the monitor so that the top of it is just just at or above eye level.  Keep the neck as straight as possible, preventing a downward bend of the head to view the monitor.
  3. Take frequent breaks – at least every 30-45 minutes – while using a laptop.  If you’re like me, and sit with your legs crossed while using the laptop, taking frequent breaks is critical to keeping bloodflow in the legs and actually being able to walk once you unknot yourself from your sitting position.
  4. Number three is so important, I’ll say it again.  TAKE FREQUENT BREAKS.  Yes, more frequent than every 2-3 hours.  Get up, stretch out your hands, arms, neck and back every 30-45 minutes.  Really.  I’m serious about this one.
  5. When you carry the laptop and all its sundry accessories, use a backpack, not a shoulder bag.  Unless you have a netbook that you’re putting into a bag with nothing else, carrying the bag with one shoulder may cause pain and discomfort in the neck, shoulder and upper back, and may also cause numbness, tingling or weakness in the arm or hand.

Side note:  There’s been some media attention to laptop burn on legs lately – make sure you’ve got a laptop desk, book or binder between the bottom of your laptop and your skin/pants if you’re actually using your laptop (gasp) on your lap.

And just so it’s clear, laying on your stomach on the floor or a mattress and using the laptop is about as bad for your body as you can get, so don’t think that’s any better in the long run, either.

Here are the main sources I used to compile this information for you.  The one from Berkeley has some good tips for cheap ways to make using a laptop easier on the body.  And, the video is a good introduction to laptop ergonomics as well.

Ergonomic information for laptops:

(Post script:  I used almost all of the above mentioned tips in the writing and posting of this blog entry.  And it made a difference.  Try it out!)


  1. Heather Wibbels said,

    November 21, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    I just added an RSS link to the blog, you should be able to see it. I know in google, you can just open the reader and enter into the subscription field and you’ll be subscribed to the feed. Thanks for reminding me I needed to do that.

  2. Louisville Massage Therapy Blog by » Looking Under the Skin at Neck Pain said,

    July 18, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    [...] up your computer or laptop workstations [...]

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