Many of us are familiar with ideal ergonomics of desktop PCs, and the frequency of breaks. But do you know what the recommendations for the ergonomic use of tablets, laptops and touch screens?

In a recent article in the guardian this is discussed. As Chiropractors we are noticing more of our patients who have neck and upper back pain use laptops and tablets at home and they admit they don’t always have good posture when using these devices.

In our work places we are made aware of ideal desktop computer use, and we may have had an ergonomic assessment. This will consider, the chair we sit in, the height of the chair and desk the lighting, the need for footstools, postural breaks from our desk etc.  This goes some way to help reduce the postural and repetitive strain associated with computer use, but not many of us consider this when we use computers, laptops and tablets at home.


So what should you do to help reduce the strain put upon your body?
In general, your eyes should be roughly level with the top of the screen, your arms should be roughly horizontal to the keyboard, and your feet should be flat on the floor with your hips slightly above your knees. (It may help if you have the chair seat tilted slightly forward.) You should sit up reasonably straight, with the chair supporting your back.

We are all different heights and shapes, and as more people desk share its important to check that you are in the best posture you can be after someone else has been at your desk.

Desktops to laptops
More and more of us use laptops at home in our recreational time but also when we ‘work from home’. Therefore we are more likely to sustain repetitive strain injuries as we are less likely to consider our ergonomics.

Tom Stewart, the founder of System Concepts, tells me: “As more people started using laptops, the HSE commissioned System Concepts to do some research on the ergonomics, health and safety implications [PDF]. This research confirmed that musculoskeletal and other problems were aggravated by awkward, static postures, prolonged use without breaks, and carrying heavy computer bags (especially over one shoulder). All of these are typical of laptop users, so we recommended lighter laptops (carried in back packs with two straps), using separate keyboards and/or screens to mimic desktop configurations, and taking frequent breaks. The HSE used this research when they updated the Display Screen Regulations.”

In sum, from the ergonomic point of view, you should make your laptop work more like a desktop. This may mean using a riser to lift the screen, and plugging in a separate keyboard.

People in pain
It’s no wonder that, according to a recent survey of 1,000 UK adults (18 and over) by Dynamic Markets for Fellowes (which sells ergonomic office equipment), 79% of us say that working with mobile devices is making us ill. About 10% say that “nomadic working” has created long-term problems, and 5% have been forced to give up their jobs. Usually, it’s only once we have pain that we look at the reason and tackle the underlying problem. Many of our patients with neck pain could have avoided a visit to the clinic in acute pain by making a few simple changes to their posture.

Laptops to tablets
So now we face a new problem…tablets. As technology moves on and things like iPads and kindles are ever more popular we are seeing even more neck pain patients in clinic.

Dr Jack Dennerlein at the Harv School of Public Health led a small study, which confirmed that looking down at a tablet can cause neck problems. It says: “Your neck angle makes all the difference.” Dennerlein’s basic tips are to prop the tablet on a stand that provides a good viewing angle, keep changing your posture, and take a break every 15 minutes. You certainly shouldn’t spend hours in a fixed position playing a mind-numbing game, nor should you let your children do the same.

(You can read the full 11-page paper, which was part-funded by Microsoft during the development of its Surface tablet.)

If you’re doing something that could be considered “content creation”, such as answering emails, then treat your tablet like a PC. If you’re using it for “content consumption” then you can treat it like a book.

Touch screens and screen breaks
However, it seems that tablets and smartphones are potentially more dangerous than either laptops or desktops, as they will more frequently be used in positions where your posture is bad for your health. The advice for desktop PC users is to take a break every hour or so, and I think you should halve that for tablets, and halve it again for smartphones. On its excellent page on Perfect PC Posture, the British Chiropractic Association says “Never sit at the computer for more than 40 minutes; less if possible,” and Dr Jack Dennerlein’s advice for tablet users is “take a break every 15 minutes”. Realistically you might not achieve this but it is something to aim for and highlights the need to take breaks from prolonged bad posture.

Here at Belfast Chiropractic clinic posture-related ailments are rising significantly and we’re seeing more in the clinic every year. It has reached the point where “Have you got a new tablet or laptop?” is now one of the questions we ask patients who have the symptomatic pains. Many more people must have niggling complaints. If that’s you, try to change your posture so that things improve. Don’t wait until they get worse. And if symptoms persist contact us at the clinic to book an appointment to see on of our highly trained Chiropractor.

Have a look at this fun cartoon which demonstrates how to make changes to your posture when at the PC and laptop.


Back to Blog List