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Preventing Back Pain for Frequent Laptop Users

Preventing Back Pain for Frequent Laptop Users

Photo: Young woman sitting in front of a laptop 

The symptoms are familiar to any student who has ever spent a long night pounding out a paper on a laptop computer: an aching neck, throbbing head and tingling fingers – how to prevent it.

Because of the way the computers are designed, using a laptop almost inevitably leads to poor posture, said Kevin Carneiro, a doctor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine.

Incorrect posture and computer overuse can cause debilitating physical problems, such as sore muscles or repetitive stress injuries. Typing can also cause carpal tunnel syndrome, an injury to the nerve that passes through the wrist.

Carneiro said that when you work at a computer, your body should form 90-degree angles at your elbows, knees and hips. Meanwhile, your eyes should look straight ahead at the top third of the screen.
But because the keyboard and monitor are combined in a laptop, they can't be positioned independently for typing and viewing.

"When you use a laptop, you have to make some sort of sacrifice," Carneiro said. Most laptop users end up with incorrect neck or shoulder posture, he said, which can lead to muscle pain in those areas.

For frequent laptop users, Carneiro said the ideal solution is to use a docking station. The station links a laptop to another monitor and keyboard or to a stand that raises the screen to a higher level. You can also use a FireWire or USB cable to connect your laptop to an extra monitor or keyboard, which you can then adjust to the proper height.

Other tips for back protection could be:
As you use the laptop, position it directly in front of you on your desk. Adjust it so that you can read the screen without bending your neck, such as by using a docking station. Set up your mouse so that your wrist is in a neutral position. Both your wrists and elbows should be supported.

Take short breaks every 20 minutes to allow your muscles to rest in a different position. As a bonus, taking breaks will help you maintain your concentration as you power through long papers. During your breaks, adjust your posture by shrugging your shoulder and gently rolling your head from side to side.

Watch for these warning signs: neck and shoulder pain, headaches at the top of your head, wrist pain or tingling in your fingers, particularly in your thumb. These symptoms indicate that you need to take more frequent breaks, adjust your posture or see a doctor.; Source: University of North Carolina

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