Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head

Beware your laptop!

Posture is everything!

Posture is everything!

I want to warn you about a member of your household who means you harm.  You may be closer to it than a lover or family member,  spend hours with it every day, gaze at it, press its buttons, turn it on, you maybe even eat together and it accompanies you to bed.

Your laptop.

Over the last couple of months I’ve developed RSI type laptop related injuries to my hands and wrists which ache and burn with increasingly shorter periods of typing. Diagnosis by Dr Internet and a second opinion from Professor Anecdotal Evidence of Friends of Friends and I was looking at surgery and an extensive recovery period from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS).

After a one mammoth writing day last week my neck joined in the rebellion. I spent the next day feeling like I was being hung from a hook at the nape of my neck. I immediately stopped putting off signing up for physio and found Juan a physiotherapist and osteopath who trained at Guantanamo Bay.

Treatment involves hot wax, electric shocks and fingers digging into pressure points known only to trained assassins. But at least I haven’t got CTS. It’s just that the knots in my shoulders and neck are so tight they’re pressing on the nerves leading to my hands and fingers. They’re so big I’m surprised they’re not visible under my skin.

I asked Juan how bad they were out of 10 and he said 7/8 and that it takes at least 9 months to cause this level. I’ve been hunching over a netbook for about 4 years, often working in bed with no proper support for my back.


This means laptops are OUT. A computer should never be looked down on, putting all that strain on your neck. But this is necessitated by the laptop’s form, as opposed to a desk top computer configuration.

You need a separate keyboard and screen so that you can have arms at 90 degrees to the floor, wrists straight, feet flat on the floor and knees at 90 degrees, screen at eye level, back supported by an ergonomic chair. Take frequent breaks i.e. every 30 minutes. For more detailed, practical help see here.

I put a note up in one of my author’s groups on Facebook, thinking either I was some freak having this occurrence and everyone else just gets away with writing for hours every day or that I was just one of the first to fall.

People’s reactions amazed me. We’re all guilty of this and paying the price.

I keep telling myself I’m going to get a standing desk, but here I am again, sitting on the bed, with laptop propped up on pillows. And I’ve only just recovered from a lower back problem caused by this.

Thanks for the reminder. Have been having hand problems from typing lately too!

Oh I am SO guilty of this too and have suffered for it badly in my neck!!

The physio is always telling me off, but even after two years of frozen shoulders which they think my writing exacerbated, I still have times when I’m sensible and times when I sit on the settee…

I’ve started having pain in my thumbs and thought it was carpal tunnel too. But since my desk is so cluttered I’ve been spending a LOT of time writing on my lap in bed (with one of those specially designed cool cushions underneath to lift the laptop) but maybe that’s what’s causing it!

However, one very sensible person had got himself a Porta-book years ago and has never suffered since. It’s a kind of raised and angled holder that will fit a netbook comfortably at the right height so the strain is off the neck and wrists.

As for me, as well as physio, I’m wearing wrist splints at night and until I can trust myself to type with them straight.

I haven’t fully learned my lesson though. I write this in bed with a physio session tomorrow…it’s so hard to change the practices of about four years!

PS I’ve been learning how to use photoshop and totally made that Quasimodo picture myself! With the help of Disney.


7 comments on “Beware your laptop!

  1. jezpatterson
    February 28, 2014

    Thanks for this, Nicola–really useful–& I hope the physio wrenches you back into the right shape again soon 🙂

    • Nicola
      February 28, 2014

      Today I was particularly wimpy even though the session itself wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the last one! Hope you’re being good when you’re writing, as prolific as you are with short stories, you’d need to be!

  2. Julie Moore
    February 28, 2014

    You take good care of yourself now Nicola, whatever that takes (and costs!) so you don’t end up with long-term problems. I was much like you some 15 years ago (although not using a laptop, just a badly set up desktop) and I’ve suffered from severe chronic pain ever since. Check out a few of the posts on my blog about posture and ergonomics – this link should pick up most of them:

    • Nicola
      February 28, 2014

      I will! I’m sorry you are suffering so long. I’m lucky that the physio is cheaper than I would get in the UK at least. Next purchase for me is a decent chair so your IKEA advice is great as there is no way I can afford a proper ergonomic chair.

  3. Alex Owen-Hill
    March 1, 2014

    Well, laptops are not completely out. These 2 videos (from vodaphone for some reason) are kind of useful for showing how you can adapt laptops for ergonomic use:
    Also, I installed a wee program called workrave ( which you can set to pop-up every 5 minutes to remind to check how you’re sitting, and also gives you exercises every half an hour to avoid being stuck in the same position for hours on end.
    I worked quite well for me for a while, and my back feels better working than it used to, but the terrible chairs they provide me at work really don’t help matters much. Still, I’d recommond a look.

    • Nicola
      March 1, 2014

      I’m so glad the Vodafone videos didn’t start with that godawful sexist ad for Vodafone Wallet with the naked girl walking around in painted on clothes! The second working from office scenario with the separate keyboard is basically what I am now doing. I still think the first one, with the woman on the chair, didn’t lift her screen high enough though. I do need to remind myself as half an hour can pass quite quickly (or slowly depending on writer’s block) and I don’t move around often enough. Thanks Alex!

  4. HLT
    October 9, 2017

    “The physio is always telling me off, but even after two years of frozen shoulders which they think my writing exacerbated, I still have times when I’m sensible and times when I sit on the settee” this is the most important word i had read …. thanks for post this.

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This entry was posted on February 28, 2014 by in Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , , .
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