Ergonomics and Medical Transcription: Laptops

I love my laptop. After years of happy desktop computer use I thought my leap into the laptop world would not really change my usage or feelings toward the machine, but boy, was I wrong! I love to curl up on the couch or cozy under the covers, all happy and convenient, to check my email one more time before I call it a day—try that with a desktop. (Just kidding. Don’t try it. It’s really hard to keep the monitor from falling over on the pillows and the cords get all tangled and the mouse doesn’t really work very well on the blankets…don’t ask.) Then there’s the undeniable cuteness factor—laptops are like baby computers, little and portable, and getting cuter all the time. Yep, I love my laptop.

So I really don’t like to talk about this, but I have to. Here goes. Laptops are not ergonomically friendly. It’s sad but true. Because the laptop keyboard and screen are attached, they cannot be positioned independently. The cold, hard fact is when the keyboard is positioned correctly, the monitor isn’t, and vice versa.

If you use your laptop casually, you may not notice any pain, strain, or really any problems at all, but if you use your laptop as a workstation or if it is your main (or only) computer, at some point you will probably run into repetitive stress injury caused by incorrect posture and less-than-optimal wrist, elbow, and neck positions.

Fortunately, there are a couple of things you can do to ergonomically retrofit your beloved laptop for hardcore work purposes.

Utilize plug-in peripherals.
Most laptops will accept a full-sized keyboard and mouse, so go ahead and attach them to your laptop. This is a great option because you can correctly position your favorite ergonomic keyboard and mouse and avoid the dreaded twinges and tingling of impending CTS. Next, place the laptop itself on a table or desk, at an appropriate distance and height. Voila!

Yes, I realize these measures basically make your laptop a desktop, so the carry-anywhere convenience factor is diminished. I’m afraid that’s the tradeoff for long-term, serious use. The good news, however, is you can still unplug the peripherals, wind them up like little lassoes and tuck them into your bag for toting along—try that with a desktop. (Just kidding. Those airport security personnel frown at you if you try to get through security with your big ol’ monitor in one arm and the tower in the other…like I said before, don’t ask.) You always have the option of not plugging in your ergonomically correct peripherals, of course. It’s nice to have options.

So your laptop is still a convenient, cute little friend. Just as an adorable human cherub can become a screaming banshee in the heart of the night, however, it’s important to remember cuteness is fickle and can turn on you. For your continued health and wellness, be prepared to use the grownup-sized keyboard and mouse if you use your laptop for more than checking your Facebook page.

For more information, check out these websites:
Laptop workstation ergonomics
Using a laptop as a desktop
Laptop ergonomics
Tips to make your laptop ergonomic

-Jill McNitt
CS Student Support Team

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