Wednesday, April 21, 2010
By Debby Giusti
When a virus zapped my old laptop, I planned to replace it with a desktop computer. Instead, I went shopping and came home with another laptop.
Seems everyone is working on-the-go these days, and the portability of laptops makes them the perfect choice for many people who work outside the office place. I didn’t want to be chained to my desk on pretty days when working from the deck would be much more pleasant nor did I want to give up the option of traveling with my computer. Yet, knowing the long hours I spend on the keyboard, I was concerned about the strain to my body. After all, laptops aren’t always user-friendly.
Needing professional help, when my daughter--who’s also my favorite physical therapist--came to visit for Easter, I asked her to share a few ergonomic tips for writers who use laptops.
Here’s the advice Liz gave me:
(Notice the old reading glasses, which are good to see the ENTIRE computer screen, and my messy office. I should have tidied up before I invited Seekerville to visit.)
A level surface is always the best to work on and is the most ergonomically correct. Keep your elbows at a ninety degree angle and your hands in a neutral position on the keyboard—don’t have your wrists cocked up or bent under.
Place your feet flat on the floor and ensure your knees are at a ninety degree angle. Hips should be at the same level or slightly higher than your knees. Never sit in a “hole” with your hips lower than you knees--a problem when reclining on a couch or a heavily cushioned chair.
The main drawback to using a laptop is the position of the monitor. Ideally, the monitor should be at eye level. If adjustments aren’t made, writers end up hunched over their laptops—a bad position for the spine—which can lead to back and neck pain.
Liz suggested I prop up my laptop to raise the monitor to the right height. We grabbed some file folders as a temporary fix. I attached a keyboard and placed it on my desk at the correct level for my wrists and elbows.
All of us need to take frequent breaks from the computer so stand and stretch at regular intervals. Walk around your desk or, as I do, head for the refrigerator to get something to eat or drink.
Liz showed me a simple stretch that helps. With my hands placed on my hips, she told me to lean back.
“Don’t overdo,” Liz cautioned. “Lean back to a comfortable pain-free position and then return to an upright standing position.” Repeat five to ten times.
Another problem for writers is carpel tunnel syndrome. Take breaks from the keyboard and do the following hand stretch Liz suggested: Gently pull back on your fingers until you feel a slight stretch on your wrist. Hold for twenty seconds. Repeat three times on each hand.
My right hand, which operates my mouse, often becomes fatigued when I’m doing a repetitive motion, such as scrolling through an entire manuscript or doing rewrites. Liz said the gentle hand stretch would help and suggested I keep my “mouse” arm close to my body and well supported.
When reading, don’t bend your neck over the book. Instead, bring the reading material up to you. The bent forward position puts more pressure on the neck and can cause pain and stiffness.
(Here I am--above--reading my military suspense, MIA: MISSING IN ATLANTA. Can you tell when I hit the scary part? Notice how I brought the book up to eye level.)
Liz is a mommy with two little ones and another baby on the way so she’ll stop in today when her busy schedule permits and answer any questions you might have.
If you’ve got an ergonomic tip you use when working at your computer, please share it with us. Include your email to be entered into a drawing for a copy of KILLER HEADLINE, my latest suspense from Steeple Hill.
Wishing you abundant blessings,