Can laptops cause pain?

An ergonomic standing work station at Upright Health

This laptop is now part of an ergonomic standing computer workstation and doesn’t cause the kinds of pain and discomfort it otherwise would.

When I was 20, I started to get a sneaking suspicion that my little Apple iBook was actually looking to undermine my health and well-being. This was a hard thing to accept, as I had come to enjoy its ability to connect me to friends, classmates, and all the many social networks available at the time (this was in the era of Myspace, Friendster, AND Facebook — and probably another one that I’m forgetting at this point). My formative years were all spent on a computer. I even learned to touch-type in first grade and was already roaring along at 85-120 words per minute by the time I was in college. I didn’t even realize what I was doing to myself.

[Note: the keyboard above is a Kinesis Freestyle. You can get the updated Kinesis Freestyle 2 from Amazon by clicking here.]

After a shoulder injury while snowboarding sidelined me from doing much of anything particularly active and fun, I found my computer hours going through the roof…and within 6 months, I was feeling all kinds of pain in both my wrists and hands. The pain got so bad that I was unable to type without feeling like I was doing serious damage. I took B vitamins for a while, which seemed to help, but the thing that seemed to help the most was just not getting on the iBook…or any computer for that matter.

I was in denial, though, and often thought to myself “other people seem to be able to use their computers without problems — why should I not be able to?” So I kept using the iBook (and eventually a Macbook) for years and years and years with no limits on how many hours a day I would spend on the thing.

But in the last few years, I’ve put limits on my computer time. I’ve banned myself from using the computer too long, especially when at home, and I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that the ergonomics of laptops, with their tiny keyboards attached to the screen, are terrible for my body.

The biomechanical stresses of using a laptop are clear as day if you take a moment to step back and take a look. Sit down at a laptop in your normal work position, have a friend snap a photo, and take a look at yourself. Your head juts forward (putting strain on your neck and reducing blood flow to your hands), your shoulders jam into your chest (further cutting off blood flow to your hands), and your entire spine generally curves into an aesthetically unflattering C that also, incidentally, compromises the integrity of your spine.

In short, sitting at a laptop is not something you want to do for any prolonged period of time if you can avoid it. Until I finally came to grips with this reality and stopped using my laptop late into the night, I suffered from all manner of fatigue and soreness in my neck and shoulders. When I finally started giving my body a break from the laptop (and all narrow keyboards), my body started giving me a break from pain!



About the Author

Matt Hsu is a trainer and orthopedic massage therapist. He fought a long battle with chronic pain all over his body and won. He blends the principles he learned in his journey, empirical observations with clients, and relevant research to help others get their lives back.

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