I remember the first time I met a laptop. It just about took my breath away. Instead of the huge tower and monitor, here were all the charms of a computer in one nice, neat package. What a bombshell: computer, keyboard and monitor all in one. And, since it was so light, we could travel together all the time and be together endlessly. It was love at first sight.
It wasn’t a monogamous relationship at first. I continued primarily with my tower and monitor at the office. I used the laptop at home. Loved every minute of it. Over time, my tower grew old and clunky. The appearance of the monitor wasn’t what it used to be. I found myself using my laptop more and more.
Ultimately, about five years ago, I started using a laptop exclusively. The two of us were inseparable. Little did I know that this relationship was harmful to my health the more we were together.
It all became clear about a month ago. I was working on some large projects and was with my laptop for 10-12 hours per day for a few weeks. I started feeling back pains. My right shoulder ached. There was numbness in my right arm. Friends suggested I had developed a pinched nerve or herniated or bulging disk
A visit to my doctor confirmed this. Our vertebrae are cushioned by small, spongy discs. When healthy, the discs act as shock absorbers. When a disc is damaged, it may bulge. The bulging disc presses on nerve roots and can cause pain, numbness and weakness in the area of the body where the nerve travels. As you age, the discs dry out and aren’t as flexible. Further, discs can be injured in a number of ways, particularly poor posture over time. Fortunately, my injury wasn’t too severe. I’m on injured reserve now, but rehabbing and hope to better than ever physically in a few months.
I found that the basic reason this occurred was that I was a victim of “laptop-itis.” Don’t laugh. Researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill School of Medicine first coined the term two years ago. After much research they determined that “high use of laptops can lead to a new ailment called laptop-itis: neck, back and arm issues that can develop from the use of a portable computer”. The health center there says that laptop-itis had become an “epidemic”. And, remember, these students didn’t have aged, inflexible discs when they came to campus.
Many students use their laptops regularly, for online classes, homework, research and entertainment. For them and us, the laptop often results in the user hunched over the screen in a “scrunched” position. Posture is bad and the body positions are not ergonomically correct. Prolonged use of a laptop is causing headaches, neck aches, carpal tunnel, tendonitis, and back pain in young and old.
So, my love affair with my laptop is over. I have a new adjustable-height desk at which I work standing up half the time. I have my monitor attached to a movable arm that positions it for the perfect eye-level distance. I have a rubber keyboard and an “evoluent” wireless mouse, which operates while my hand is in a vertical position (like shaking hands) not a horizontal position. It’s basically an ergonomic showcase.
I’m sharing this sad story of love, damage and separation, because many of you may be using your laptop too much as well. Here are some pointers for the future if you are using a laptop:
- Take a break every 20 minutes. Stand up, walk around and stretch.
- If you’re going to use a laptop, don’t cradle it in your lap.
- Tilt the screen so you don’t need to bend your neck.
- If you can, use a desktop computer for long durations at the computer.
- Switch out your laptop for a desktop or use a docking station.
- If you have pain, see a doctor.
Remember, don’t let your laptop seduce you. It may cause you pain in the long run.