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Pain-Free Notebook PC Accessories

How Users Can Avoid Unknowingly Damaging Necks, Wrists

A typical user of a notebook would lower the head in order to view the screen. This causes stress on the neck, and with the wrists bent to use the keyboard, nerves are aggravated.

“People used to start going for treatment of deteriorating disk disease in the early years of 40s. However, in the recent years, they go in their late 20s. The culprit, is the notebook computer” says  Physician and ergonomist Doctor Mark Vettraino, director of ergonomics consultants Task Group International

When speaking at conferences, he demonstrates the effect of notebooks by showing X-rays of his own neck taken three years apart. The first shows a natural, healthy 60-degree curve of his spine. The second shows it almost straight and at an angle. Those were the first three years in which he used a notebook computer.

Strain on Neck

He refers to the head as a ‘12-pound bowling ball.’ If a person sits for too long with the head lowered and the neck bent to view a computer screen, the weight strains the muscles at the back of the neck, and the spine assumes the curved-forward position.

The stress on the muscles can cause pain; it results in a form of repetitive stress injury (RSI). The loss of curvature of the neck can cause disks to bulge and touch nerves, even to rupture.

Stress on Wrists

At the same time, the keyboard can be too high, so the user’s wrists bend and are held in one position for too long. This can cause another RSI, and result in carpal tunnel syndrome in which nerves to the hand are pinched.

The touchpad or button used as a pointing device (i.e., instead of a mouse) can also be in an awkward position, causing strain of the muscles of the arm and shoulder.

Notebook computers were designed to be portable and for use for brief periods only, not for use over extended periods at a desk.


Positioned for Comfort

 

In the office, the notebook computer user needs an arrangement as close as possible to the ergonomic set-up in the attached illustration.

Stands are available to hold the notebook computer at the correct height. Depending on the model, the notebook computer will have a socket or sockets for external components to be plugged in. An external keyboard can be plugged in and supported by an adjustable keyboard tray that places the keys at the correct height.

If the notebook can accept a plug-in external pointing device, a mouse or trackball can take the place of the button or touchpad. This can place the mouse or trackball at a comfortable position where the user does not have to stretch so he or she can avoid strain on arm and shoulder muscles.

Some notebook computer stands include a USB (universal serial bus) connection. The notebook can be connected through it to a number of external devices. Some notebook computers provide wireless connection to external keyboards, mice and printers.

An alternative is an interconnection device known as a docking station. A station can link the notebook computer to, for example, a local-area network in an office or building, and into a larger computer. This preserves the original purpose of the notebook, which is to allow a person to take computing ability on the road, but to be able to work with a larger computer in the office.

Even in high-tech organizations, it is common to see computer professionals bring their notebooks into the office, plonk them down on their desks and begin work. They are the very people who go to see someone like Dr. Vettraino before they are 30.

Healthy Heights

Notebook stands can place the screen at a healthy height. With an external keyboard plugged into the computer and held on an adjustable tray, the keys can be placed at the correct height to avoid carpal tunnel problems, and an external mouse can be plugged in and positioned to avoid stretching.


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