Tweak your (tiny) station to create a more comfortable environment—sans hand cramps.

By Nancy Mattia
April 15, 2020
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If you're currently working from home on a laptop—as so many people are these days—chances are the computer is doing painful things to your body, specifically your neck, shoulders, back, wrists, and hands. A laptop may be portable, but it's poorly designed for long-term use: For example, when the screen is at the right height to make reading comfortable, the keyboard position is too high, straining your shoulders; when the keyboard is at the right height, the screen is too low, so you look down, causing neck pain.

woman working from home on laptop
Credit: Getty / Maskot

Following general wellness guidelines can help. "Get up from your chair every half hour and walk around," says Carisa Harris, the director of the Ergonomics Research and Graduate Training Program at University of California Berkeley. Or move around your office or work space whenever you're talking on the phone. "Since you shouldn't be staring at a monitor for very long, getting up is also good for your eyes," says Harris. And then, of course, there are simple accessories that can make using your laptop that much more user friendly. To create a more comfortable workstation, consider getting the following laptop add-ons.

External Keyboard and Mouse

If you're using your laptop's keyboard, you'll probably feel discomfort in your hands, says Harris. And if your forearms aren't supported, then you'll likely feel pain in your neck and shoulder muscles. Bypassing the laptop's keyboard in favor of an external, or separate, keyboard that you can move to fit your needs solves these problems by allowing your elbows to rest by your side at 90 degrees. Using a separate mouse also keeps your wrist in a straight, neutral position.

Laptop Stand or Riser

Raising the position of the screen with a stand or riser (or a pile of books you don't intend to read anytime soon) will straighten your neck and prevent you from having to look down. But you need to make sure that the screen is at a level that's comfortable for you. "Our natural gaze is about fifteen to twenty-five degrees below the horizon," says Harris. "So the easiest place for our eyes to look is not straight ahead but down a bit. The best way to gauge this is to close your eyes then open them to see where your natural gaze falls. Try to line up your screen there."

External Monitor

It's no surprise that having an extra, bigger screen increases your productivity by expanding your desktop. While using it, maintain a neutral neck posture and don't lean forward. Keep your shoulder blades touching the back of your chair at all times.

Cushions

While sitting in an ergonomic chair is better, you can make a kitchen or dining room chair more comfortable with some cushions. "Put one on the seat and another one on the back for extra support," says Harris. To make sitting even more comfy, roll up a towel to place behind your low back area.

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