Laptop health

Laptops make us able to work more flexibly and be more mobile but they have been blamed for causing work-related back, neck and shoulder problems.

In 2010 to 2011, there were 198,000 cases of upper limb disorders (ULDs), also known as repetitive strain injury (RSI), according to the Health and Safety Executive.

The increased popularity of laptops may be adding to the problem. They were once used mainly by busy business people who had to work on planes or trains, but not any more.

Thanks to low prices, the rise in home working and wireless internet access, laptops are everywhere. In 2005, laptops outsold desktop computers for the first time ever.

About 8% of the workforce are teleworkers (working from other locations, using the home as a base or working from home). This figure is expected to rise.

The Health and Safety Executive’s 2006 Horizon Scanning paper reports that by 2015, 70% to 80% of workers could be, at least partially, working away from the office.

“I've seen many people with neck, back and shoulder problems caused by excessive laptop use,” says Tim Hutchful, a British Chiropractic Association-registered chiropractor.

Posture advice

Good laptop health

  • For sustained periods of work, use your laptop with a monitor and keyboard.
  • Place the laptop on a stable base and not on your lap.
  • Take regular breaks to relieve upper body tension.
  • Sit up straight with your lower back supported.

Bad posture is inevitable because of the way laptops are designed, says Levent Caglar, senior consultant ergonomist at the Furniture Industry Research Association (FIRA).

“The main problem is the keyboard being attached to the screen,” he says.

“You need the screen at arm's length but you need the keyboard near you, so you push the laptop further back, then your hands stretch out, then you hunch your shoulders.

"That creates bad posture. If I were designing a laptop, I’d do it with a detachable screen.

“The average human head weighs quite a lot. If it’s in the ideal position, balanced above the shoulders, it’s fine.

“But when you use a laptop, your ears are further forward than your shoulders. That’s like taking a weight and holding it out at arm's length.

“The load through your spine is much greater and, even worse, it’s a static load. You’re not moving. This causes neck, upper back and arm problems."

Tim says that laptops are fine when used properly. "There are plenty of ways you can make your laptop safer and more comfortable,” he says.

Laptop-use tips

  • Use a separate keyboard and mouse so that the laptop can be put on a stand and the screen opened at eye level.
  • Use your laptop on a stable base where there is support for your arms, and not on your lap.
  • Take regular breaks. If you’re moving, there’s a lot less stress on your muscles and joints.
  • Adopt good sitting posture with lower back support, and ensure that other desk equipment is within reach.
  • Get into good habits before the aching starts. Neck, shoulder and back problems gradually build up over time.


Back stretches

Back pain is a very common condition, affecting about 80% of people at some point in their lives. A physiotherapist demonstrates some simple back stretches to help prevent aches and pains.

Media last reviewed: 08/08/2013

Next review due: 08/08/2015

Page last reviewed: 12/07/2012

Next review due: 12/07/2014

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