How to avoid pain from laptop-itis as you head back to school

Medical experts are cautioning students heading back to campus this fall to take note of their posture when using laptops in order to avoid laptop-itis. Symptoms described by UNC health experts include an aching neck, throbbing head and tingling fingers, but those are just the tip of the iceberg.

Most students returning to school this fall will be bringing a laptop, so laptop-itis is no small matter, despite its silly-sounding name. The issues can magnify as students spend more time on their laptops not just for academic work, but also for recreation activities such as social networking and gaming.The problem stems from laptop design, which generally places the monitor right next to the keyboard. That arrangement is not conducive to the optimal posture for working at a computer, according to Kevin Carneiro, of the UNC School of Medicine. He suggests 90-degree angles at the elbows, knees and hips. Additionally, he says, the user's eyes should be looking directly at the top third of the screen.

Fortunately there are steps you can take to avoid the short- and long-term health hazards of laptop-itis without breaking the bank. These tips are great for anyone who uses a notebook or laptop on a regular basis, not just students.

The cheapest way to ensure that you aren't hunched over a laptop all day long is top buy an external keyboard/mouse combo and a laptop stand. Even the cheapest $20 keyboard and mouse combined with a $20 stand or a stack of books can place the laptop at a reasonable level and keep your elbows at the 90 degree angle experts recommend.

If you can spend a bit more then you should look for a laptop dock that allows you to connect all of your accessories, including a monitor, to your laptop with one cable. This makes it easier to set keep the notebook at the appropriate height and maintain mobility. Notebook docks, like these five, are a must have back to school laptop accessory and you can even purchase a dock from HP that has a built in stand and speakers to provide better sound and bring your notebook's screen to the appropriate level. Depending on the dock and monitor that you purchase you can expect to spend between $75 and $200.

Other options for healthy notebook usage include taking short breaks every 20 minutes to avoid muscle strain, purchasing an ergonomic chair for your dorm room or investing in a speech to text tool like Dragon Naturally Speaking that allows you to dictate your papers instead of typing them.

If you have a netbook as your primary computer on campus this fall then the information above is even more important as even the best netbook keyboards can quickly lead to finger and wrist pain when it comes time to type a long paper.

Keep in mind that while you may need to spend money on a more ergonomic dorm room setup, the money you save in chiropractic visits, aspirin and avoiding repetitive stress injuries will make it more than worthwhile.

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