In March of this year, people were advised by the government to stay away from offices and work from home. For many (at least in the beginning) this was a welcome change from the daily commuting, tightrope-walking office politics, and being friendly asked to ‘work overtime’. But as the time at home mounts and we’ve hit the half year mark, people are starting to feel the negative effects of being constantly hunched over a laptop. Doctors have helpfully come up with the festive-sounding name HOLS (Hunched Over Laptop Syndrome) for this – suddenly very common -condition.
Here, qualified health practitioner Mari Ferguson from the health and wellness brand Last Verdict discusses why Laptop Syndrome occurs, how it can affect your health, and what you can do to combat it. ‘Since the start of lockdown, people have been complaining of consistent pain that ranges from the neck and shoulders, and upper and lower back. For office workers this can seem strange, as spending 8 hours in front of a computer all day is normal, so why is it starting to cause problems now? This condition is specifically brought on by spending too many hours in unnatural, awkward positions, in front of your portable electronic device and can lead to severe aches and pains.’
What is Laptop Syndrome?
‘Laptop syndrome isn’t just a buzzword term picked at random – there is an actual connection between design of laptops and your deteriorating health. Research has found that 25% of office workers have noticed their posture is worse when they work away from the workplace when using laptops, tablets, and handheld devices, with 10% claiming that the negative effects are long-term.’
‘For many laptop users, this probably is no surprise and you’ve already experienced some sort of pain in your body at some time in your life. Laptops originally were designed to be used occasionally – a device on the go between using a desktop at work, and your home computer. The design of them, with the screen tilted upwards, and the keyboard and mouse positioned compactly together for ease of transport, were never meant to be used as a permanent work device replacement for 6 -8 hours a day and forces your body to hunch over the device. You could say it was built for design, not the human body’s needs, and the constant strain on it from bad posture it causes results in Laptop Syndrome’
‘Obviously, with way more people working from home, away from office chairs and desks designed to help combat the negative effects of sitting at a workstation for long periods at a time, many are experiencing aches and pains in their back and necks. Although they can seem minor at first, repeated strain over time can have serious consequences on your health in the future.’
What are the effects?
The problems from Laptop Syndrome arise from bad posture over long periods of time when using portable devices, but what are the actual effects? ‘Everyone who has worked in an office has probably had to sit through a health and safety seminar on the ‘dangers of bad posture’. It’s something a lot of people take lightly, as sitting up completely straight can feel unnatural at first, and people under the age of 30 usually shake off the pain of a sore back after a few minutes. Unfortunately, as we age our bodies deal with aches and pains at a slowly rate.’
‘Because of lockdown, people working from home are going from sleeping, to sitting up in their bed all day in a ‘c-shape’ with very little breaks throughout. Hunching over a computer for an unnecessarily long period of time puts pressure on the cervical and thoracic spine, protracts the shoulders forward and places the head further away from the centre of your body, reducing its support. Think of it this way – it’s easier to hold a heavy bag closer to your torso than it is with outstretched arms. When you hunch forward with your head, the weight of the head increases up to 25-30kg of the load on the spine – now imagine you’re doing that for 8 hours a day. Symptoms experienced from sitting in an awkward position on your laptop include the obvious neck and back pain, but lesser known effects are pins and needles, numbness, and a higher risk of a repetitive strain injury in your arms and wrists. ‘
How to prevent it
‘Although many of us don’t miss going into the office every day, there were some positives attached to working away from home. The schedule of work, with the commute, lunch breaks and need to move around, provided natural breaks away from your computer. Working from home has resulted in people being far less active during the workday, with many people missing lunchbreaks, and working longer periods of time. In fact, workers can now take as little as 100 steps or less during a workday. Even if you feel you have the perfect home office set up, there are some ways to protect your health and wellbeing throughout lockdown.’
‘Try not to work from your bed and move your workstation to a table with a chair. Stools and low-down sofas are not ideal for working and force you to slouch instead of sit-up straight. Ideally, you’re looking to maintain a line from the back of your head to your lower back when sitting.’
‘Even if you’re seated with good posture all day, exercises and stretches every 45 minutes to an hour will help reduced the strain people naturally place on their bodies. Try to get up and walk around the house for 5 to 10 minutes, making sure to stretch your neck and back. If you’re really swamped and can’t get away from your computer, sit with your back against the chair and roll your head from side to side for a minute or so.’
‘The device itself can be the main issue too. Increasing the height of your laptop means that you’re not hunched over it, so try to position it like a classic desktop screen, either by propping it up with books or connecting it to an external monitor.’