In this last installment of our series on computer-user health, I want to take some time to address some of the health concerns related to mobile computing devices.
Earlier in this series we identified forward heard posture (FHP) as one of the primary stressors leading to pain and stiffness in the neck and shoulders. With desktop computers, the ‘cure’ for FHP can often be found by raising the monitor to the proper height, thereby preventing the tendency to lean the head forward and down. Unfortunately, this solution cannot be applied to mobile devices because the keyboard and monitor are inextricably linked.
For our discussion, let’s break mobile devices down into two groups: laptops and handhelds (phones, PDA’s, gaming devices, etc.).
We’ll start with laptops. First of all, if you use a laptop for extended periods on a daily basis, then I will guarantee you are doing yourself harm. Either your monitor is far too low (almost always the case) or your keyboard is way too high. There is no positive reconciliation of this arrangement without disconnecting the monitor from the keyboard. When your laptop is at the proper height for typing, watching your monitor will always demand you be in a position of FHP. So what are doomed laptop users to do? There is a healthy solution, and it is three-pronged. To disconnect the monitor and keyboard of your laptop, you need only employ a peripheral keyboard, peripheral mouse, and a monitor stand. The monitor stand should be high enough to set the monitor at eye level, and the peripheral mouse and keyboard can be used at their proper level. Anymore, I go out of my way to convince laptop users to switch to a desktop or, at least, use the above peripheral setup.
If we direct our attention to handheld computing/gaming/communication devices, then the problems we have just been talking about become amplified. The screens are smaller, and the tendency for FHP is increased (you have to get your eyes even closer to the small scripts). What could be worse? Nothing I can think of. One remediating factor with handhelds is that you can hold them at eye level. Unfortunately, this puts your arms and hands above your heart and, thus, can only be maintained for a short while. If you are going to use a handheld device, however, then I would encourage you to bring the screen up to eye level as much as possible to avoid the strains associated with FHP. Another option is to use a recumbent/reclining seated position. This allows the neck to relax and provides some support for the arms.
Mobile device- mobile headache. The take-home message here is that prolonged daily use of mobile devices is not recommended. Switch to a desktop or, at least, use peripherals and a monitor stand when you can. Perhaps the advent of computer glasses combined with the perfection of voice-recognition software is our greatest hope- “look Ma, no hands!” I hope you’ve enjoyed and learned some things over the course of this series that will help you optimize your computer-user health.