About halfway into writing the second chapter of her senior thesis last semester, University of Colorado student Heather Hanson started noticing pain in her wrists.
She’d felt this pain before, and had some back pain as well from sitting for eight to 10 hours a day while writing three chapters before graduation.
Some tips to prevent “laptopitis,” or neck and back pain from working on a laptop:
1. Take a break about every 20 minutes, stand up, walk around, maybe even stretch a little.
2. If you’re going to use a laptop, try to sit at a desk or table.
3. If you can, use a desktop computer for those long, grueling assignments or papers.
4. Switch out your laptop for a desktop. This may seem crazy, but it may prevent long-term damage.
5. If you have pain, see a doctor.
At first, she just “dealt with the pain,” but then tried switching to using a desktop computer to write the rest of her thesis — and it “felt better right away,” she said.
To many college students, laptops are their heart and soul, an extension of their bodies. But some could be unaware of the possible health issues that stem from the prevalent use of this technology.
“I probably use my computer more than the average student,” senior Theron Lamb said. “But I’m OK, so far. I not worried about it yet.”
According to researchers at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Medicine, the high use of laptops among college students can lead to a new ailment they’re calling “laptopitis” — neck, back and arm issues that can develop from the use of portable computers.
Officials at Wardenburg Health Center on campus see a number of students with ailments that have started from the use of laptops.
“The main thing we see associated with laptop use is headaches, back pain and neck pain,” said Paul Mintken, physical therapist at Wardenburg. “It’s definitely becoming an epidemic.”
Mintken said that most students don’t realize that their computer use may be the cause of these ailments — but upon the diagnosis, they understand.
“In the last five years, laptops have become more prevalent and more college students use them for basically everything in school,” he said.
CU sophomore Jackie Becker said she thinks she has a lot of back problems for her age. She uses her laptop about 25 hours a week, with all of her classes having online homework.
Becker said she tries to sit at the kitchen table to study, but sometimes ends up on her bed with her computer.
Others don’t appear to be too concerned.
“I sit on the couch and watch TV and do school work,” senior Michael Halpern said. “I’m not worried about any long-term effects.”
Sitting on the couch hunches you over the screen, and, according to the professionals, can be bad news for your back and neck.
“At a conventional computer, you sit at a desk and everything is ergonomically correct,” said Debra Layne, owner of North Boulder Physical Therapy. “But with a laptop it’s all in one.”
Because of their combined structure, Layne said that the problem with laptops comes from people’s extended use with their bodies in a scrunched position. Prolonged use of a laptop with bad posture can lead to issues such as headaches, neckaches, carpal tunnel, tendonitis and back pain.
North Boulder Physical Therapy sees patients who, according to Layne, “ignore the pain and keep going.”
Her advice to students is when they first start noticing pain, to do something about it — see a doctor.