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Health & Wellness

Is Your Laptop Hurting You?

Sargent prof offers tips to stop back, neck, and wrist pain


Notebook computers are often a wise investment for students because they’re easy to transport to the library, to classes, and back home during vacations. But because notebook computers are so portable, students often use them on their beds, at tables, and in other locations where ergonomics takes a backseat to convenience. As a result, some users are developing health problems — including wrist, neck, shoulder, head, and back pain — from curving their bodies forward to view the monitor and using the notebook computer’s keyboard and built-in mouse in an uncomfortable position.

In an effort to assist student notebook users, Karen Jacobs, a clinical professor at Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and an occupational therapist, has done a research study to identify and treat health problems and offer suggestions on how students can modify their notebooks to function as desktop computer workstations. The Office Ergonomics Research Committee, a group of U.S. companies concerned by the increasing number of musculoskeletal disorders among office workers, is among the sponsors of Jacobs’ research.

For all research participants, Jacobs (SAR’79) has developed a mouse pad with some easy-to-follow tips on how they can set up their computer workstations.

Ergonomics for Your Notebook Computer Workstation:

Raise the computer so the monitor screen is just below your eye height.

Position the computer monitor at arm’s length directly in front of you and perpendicular to the window to avoid glare on the screen.

Use a separate keyboard and press the keys lightly.

Use an external mouse and keep it close to the separate keyboard; the mouse and keyboard should be at elbow height.

Your wrists should be straight.

Place your arms and elbows close to your body.

Sit back and slightly recline in your chair.

Your knee angle should be greater than 90 degrees, with your feet in front of you.

Keep your feet flat on the floor or on a footrest.

Attach a document holder in front or on the side of your monitor.

Use a headset when using a mobile phone.

Additionally, Jacobs suggests following the 20/20/20 rule, which advises taking a rest break every 20 minutes for 20 seconds and looking at least 20 feet away from the monitor. She recommends free software called Stretch Break for Kids, which automatically reminds students to take a break; Stretch Break for Kids can be downloaded from Jacobs’ Web site.

The Sargent professor wants to keep students healthy — at Boston University and at all universities. “The problems students are facing can be avoided,” she says, “and they do not have to become an epidemic.”

Jacobs will present her research on computer workstation ergonomics tonight, February 20, at 6 p.m. at the Florence and Chafetz Hillel House, 213 Bay State Rd. For more information about her research, visit her Web site.

Robin Berghaus can be reached at berghaus@bu.edu.

Music provided by Kevin MacLeod and Apple.


2 Comments on Is Your Laptop Hurting You?

  • Andrea Halverson on 02.20.2008 at 7:44 am

    Karen Jacobs has chosen a timely, important subject for her research. I really appreciate her efforts to help the BU student population be healthier and more comfortable while using their notebook computers. We can all benefit from the information she is providing.
    Thanks, Karen!

  • Anonymous on 02.23.2008 at 1:15 am

    Great job Karen!

    It’s great to see a professor working on research that has a direct impact on students and their well-being. I appreciate all the work that Karen is doing to help students. As a participant in her study, I really found that her techniques and suggestions were actually very beneficial. I have incorporated many of the ergonomic suggestions Karen has provided and I urge every student to at least try them. Your body will thank you. Thanks Karen!

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