In addition to your office chair and poor posture, your desk job may be causing you pain. Both laptop and desktop computers can be problematic, depending on how you position them in relationship to your body, and the worst part is that some of the tools designed to help eliminate pain can actually cause more.
For workers who travel frequently, take work home, or work from a home office sometimes, laptops seem like the ideal choice, providing flexibility to employees and cost savings for employers. The downside to this trend toward mobility is the ergonomic issues associated with regular and prolonged laptop use. For the employee, personal discomfort is clearly the problem; for the employer, these ergonomic faults can affect that all-important bottom line, the very same one they tried to preserve by not providing employees with options.
Two basic ergonomic problems can surface due to laptop use. First, in its ideal position, a laptop keyboard is positioned in front of the user, whose elbows rest comfortably to the sides. The problem is that such a position requires the neck to bend forward in order for the screen to be viewable. This stress to the neck can cause straining and pain in the neck, back and shoulders. Second, if a laptop is positioned higher in order to allow for proper neck posture, the arms will need to be raised and in a forward position. Such positioning leads to overusing and straining the tendons of the elbow, wrist, and hand.
A simple, inexpensive solution to these problems associated with laptop use is to purchase an external keyboard. That situation will allow you to raise the screen in front of you, while keeping the keyboard lower. For employers, many are opting to provide “docking stations” for laptops, including wireless external keyboards and mice. While such a setup includes initial costs, the lower healthcare costs and fewer workman’s comp. claims make it worthwhile.
In addition to improper positioning of the screen, keyboard, and mouse, one common culprit contributing to unnecessary pain and strain: rubber keyboard wrist supports. Ideally, your wrists and fingers should be in a neutral position, not flexed or extended. Such positioning is achieved with wrists hovering above the keyboard, not resting in front of it. While a keyboard tray may aid in such positioning, wrist supports encourage planting the wrists, forcing more extension than otherwise necessary. By lifting each finger in order to reach the keys on a regular basis, the wrist and forearm can both become strained from overuse.
Conditions that result are called “tennis elbow” and wrist tendonitis and can be caused by faulty keyboard ergonomics. Because the overworked extensor muscles originate at the elbow, the pain can occur from the lateral side of the elbow, the top of the hand, or anywhere in between. Medical intervention will not be able to compensate for continued problem positioning; only changing your habits will ultimately help.
PhysioDC of Washington, D.C.
Daniel Baumstark and his professional team of physical therapists operate a boutique physical therapy office in downtown Washington, D.C. From athletes to government officials, and from ballerinas to corporate executives, PhysioDC helps people recover, strengthen and return to healthy living. Visit their website at www.PhysioDC.com or call them at 202-223-8500.
Image credits: Top by Zsolt Nyulaszi/Fotolia; Bottom by Kurhan/Fotolia.