Using a Laptop Riser to Prevent Upper Back and Neck Pain

laptop riser neck pain

People are spending more and more time in front of a screen, both for work and leisure.  As an osteopath I always ask patients about their desk set up and computer use. A desk top computer, when properly set up is the best option ergonomically. However, many people prefer the convenience and size of laptops due to work patterns or lifestyle. I see this a lot with consultants, home-workers, students and hot-deskers.

I always recommend that anyone who uses a laptop for more than 2-3 hours, raise their laptop so their eye level is approximately one third down the screen. This is particularly important for people who are prone to shoulder and neck pain or lower back pain.

Why are Laptops Bad for Posture?

We position our head so that our eyes are in the best position to see the screen. If a screen is lower than eye level (as in the case of a laptop), we move our head down and forward so our eyes are optimally positioned. This causes a hunched posture which leads to tight muscles at the front of the neck and chest. It also reduces the naturally supportive curves in our necks and lower backs.

When people are absorbed in work, surfing the internet, social media or whatever they are using a laptop for, they are usually completely unaware of how they are sitting. Our bodies tend to be very good at accommodating and ignoring poor posture, and it is usually only after prolonged laptop use that neck and back pain comes on.

How Can Raising Your Laptop Help?

When you raise your laptop so your eye level is approximately one third down the screen, your head will naturally move up and back. You will feel more comfortable and upright with your chest held more open. Of course there are other considerations to achieve optimal desk posture (see this blog post), but raising your screen is a very good start.

How Do I Raise My Screen?

Budget option

Laptop riser laptop stand books

  1. Stack up a pile of books under your laptop until your eye level is approximately one third down from the top of the screen.
  2. Connect a wireless or USB mouse and keyboard
  3. Bingo! You have created your own desk top set up using a laptop

Laptop Riser or Laptop Stand

There are many laptop stands on the market for all budgets. Depending on your situation, you may want to consider the following things when deciding which one to purchase:

  • Compatibility with the size and weight of your laptop
  • Height adjustability
  • ‘Footprint’ on your desk
  • Built in storage underneath
  • Sturdiness
  • Cost
  • Appearance
  • Portability – lightweight and compact

Portable Laptop Riser

The problem with many of the laptop risers on the market is they are bulky to carry around. Couple this with the fact that many people use laptops because they frequently travel, and you have an obvious incompatibility.

Laptop riser The Roost Stand

The Roost Laptop stand folded away

The Roost Laptop stand offers a good solution. It is lightweight, collapsible, portable and strong. It weighs just 164g and measures a tiny 2.5 x 3.8 x 33cm when folded. It also adjusts to sitting and standing heights and fits any laptop whose “front edge” is less than 1.9 cm thick. (ie most laptops).

The Roost laptop stand laptop riser

The Roost laptop stand with USB keyboard and mouse attached.

The kind people at Roost sent me a laptop riser to try out. The first thing I noticed was just how compact and light it is. It was easy to assemble and adjust. Unfortunately, as my work table is higher than an average desk (75cm compared to 73cm standard), and my laptop on the large size (26x36cm), the lowest setting meant my screen was too high.

I tried it out with my husband’s laptop which measures a smaller 21x31cm, and it worked perfectly, even on a slightly higher desk.

What About the Keyboard and Mouse?

You will need to use a separate keyboard and mouse, regardless of whether you choose a pile of books or a proper laptop stand. This is because when you raise your laptop, the keyboard and integrated mouse become too high to type comfortably. In fact, typing on a raised keyboard will likely cause shoulder, neck and even arm and wrist pain too, leaving you worse off!

There is a whole range of wired (USB) keyboards and mice, as well as wireless ones on the market, depending on the age and compatibility of your laptop. Most people will probably have an old USB keyboard or mouse kicking around at the back of a cupboard somewhere. If you are looking to buy something new, the factors I have listed above in the ‘Laptop Riser’ section will also be useful when choosing a keyboard and mouse.

What About Stands for Tablets?

Aah yes, as tablets increase in popularity, some people are using them in place of laptops. There are of course postural issues with prolonged tablet use, and solutions to boot.  I will be exploring these issues in a future blog post.

Emma Lipson is Principal Osteopath at Feel Better Osteopathy in Warwick, Warwickshire.

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