Physical Ergonomics of Computer Use

10 most-common laptop usage positions of ten-year-olds.

10 most-common laptop usage positions of ten-year-olds.

An interface design research project studied the ways that tween-age students (age 11-14 years) interact with laptops, netbooks, and other portable digital devices. [1] As part of the study, researchers observed typical physical ergonomics of  this age group. As the drawing above is meant to show, the researchers discovered that position #2, “lying down in bed with the device on the thigh when the knees are kept up”, was the most comfortable position for using a conventional small clamshell computer.

The red zones in the drawing are meant to indicate points of strain. You can see where the wrists, neck, shoulders, and lower back are put in positions of flexion that may cause stress. And I take it that eyestrain may result from too low a line of sight to the screen. Adam Pash at Lifehacker calls these postures ten common positions to avoid. He observes that the “pain points” in red show where the users’ posture will cause future problems such as RSI. [2]

I think that most Alexander Technique teachers would agree that position #2 looks the least stressful. Because of the elevation of the head and knees, the lower back and neck in this position are allowed to be relaxed and lengthened, with a natural alignment.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposes more standard ergonomic recommendations for desk-sitting positions to prevent strain and fatigue when working at the computer. See article on their website. [3]

[1] Case Study: Freescale Netbook Design at SCAD, by Dave Malouf

[2] Common Laptop/Netbook Positions to Avoid – Laptops – Lifehack, by Adam Pash

[3] OSHA Ergonomic Solutions: Computer Workstations eTool – Components – Monitors


3 Responses to “Physical Ergonomics of Computer Use”
  1. Sue says:

    I don’t think Alexander Technique teachers would be as interested in the positions as much as how the subject is organizing her body. You can be stiff in any position and can have fluidity in most positions.

    Ergonomics tends to emphasize how we adapt to our work environment, and has much to offer in that regard. But…it leaves out the all important question of how we organize ourselves in whatever position/activity we’re in. goes into this in much greater detail.

    http://alexandertechnique is the best place to learn about the Technique

  2. joegrohens says:

    Dear Sue,

    Thank you for your comment and the links!

    I agree with what you say about the difference between use of the body and positions of the body. And that people can use their bodies in a good way in many positions. Very good point.

    When people see me with back or neck pain resulting from their way of working at the computer, I usually try to help them find positions that will minimize strain and pain. I think that different body positions are comfortable or problematic for people depending on their physical conditions. Kids who are between the ages of eleven and fourteen can get away with a lot more than adults in their middle years, or someone who has tendinitis or some kind of spinal degeneration. I usually advise people to take positions that provide support to the lower back and that don’t cause pressure on the disks and vertebrae in the back and neck.

    And as you suggest, using yourself in a way that is free from unnecessary tension and holding can avoid and mitigate strain injuries in many positions.

    I’m going to repost the websites you mention, because the links aren’t working right in your comment. They are excellent sources of information about Ergonomics and Alexander Technique. – Posture, Movement and Ergonomics

    The Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique

  3. Jeff says:

    Those are good ways and varied ways for reading as well. People OFTEN ask me for good ways to read, and I then work with them a little on reading. You are on to something. Of course, within any position we want to encourage freedom and fluidity, as Sue said. But sometimes, in addition to finding good use in any position, it is useful to have position options that one may not have considered before.