Risks of Laptop Use
Most neck, lower back and wrist problems are caused by improper computer use. The more time you spend at your laptop, the greater the risk of developing:
Musculoskeletal injury is damage to the muscles, ligaments, tendons and/or nerves due to strenuous activity. Though we usually don’t think of using the computer as strenuous activity, if you spend hours in a position that strains your body, the activity becomes strenuous. For example, bending the neck to look at the laptop screen can strain the muscles on the backside of your neck.
When to See a Doctor
See a doctor at the onset of the pain (even mild pain)! Do not wait for it to “go away.” There is no way to tell if your injury is major or minor without seeing a doctor. You should go see a doctor if you feel pain that prevents you from getting your work done; if it’s the least bit distracting.
Musculoskeletal injuries can have a domino effect. When one part of your body is in pain, other parts of your body work extra hard to offset this pain. This can cause other muscles to strain themselves, leading to a sense of “general” pain. When you no longer feel an acute (mild, lasting for a short period of time) pain within a specific area, and instead feel general pain in more areas, it becomes harder for your doctor to find the root of your problem. If left untreated, the pain could become chronic.
Your treatment will depend on your doctor’s diagnosis. The area of pain and degree of severity also determines the type of treatment, which may include decreasing inflammation, healing any tissue damage, and restoring the range of motion if the pain/injury changed it.
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Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS)
Different eye and vision-related issues can arise when you stare at a computer screen for hours at a time. Symptoms of CVS include neck pain, headaches, eye fatigue and visual discomfort. Laptop screens and external screens can cause significant eyestrain for multiple reasons, including:
- The screen is overly bright, especially in the dark.
Solution: Use comfortable general (ambient) lighting then adjust the screen brightness to match the room light. Turning the brightness of the screen down can conserve your battery, but should not be the reason why you lower the contrast.
- Brightness and resolution is improperly adjusted. The images on the screen are a collection of tiny dots that have different degrees of brightness and resolution (the quality of the image). When adjusted incorrectly, your eyes have to work harder to focus.
Solution: Recalibrate the brightness and image resolution to reduce eyestrain.
- Reflections and glare caused by too much light on the screen.
Solution: Place your screen at a right angle to windows or light sources. Close your curtains or window blinds to reduce glare from sunlight on the screen. If you are at school, use your laptop in a shaded area to avoid glare from the sunlight.
- Font size and color can make reading difficult.
Solution: Increase the font size and the contrast between the font color and background color to improve eye comfort.
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Known as nearsightedness, myopia causes distant objects to appear blurry, while objects close up are clear. If your eyes are straining to see the computer screen, myopia can develop (or can be worsened if you are already nearsighted).
Make sure to rest your eyes—remember the 20-20-20 guideline. Every 20 minutes, look at an object 20 feet or more away for 20 seconds. Remember to naturally blink to keep your eyes from drying out.
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Reviewer: Elizabeth Lee, M.D., PAMF Family Medicine, and Heshmat Pain Management Clinic
Read more about ergonomics in the work environment.
More information on computer vision syndrome (CVS).
Laptop ergonomics video demonstrating how to make your laptop use ergonomic.