Its no wonder laptops are now more popular than desktopstheyre just so liberating. But anyone who loves her laptop knows there can be agony in all that ecstasy: Using them regularly can make your neck throb, eyes ache, and shoulders cry uncle. Thankfully, some simple accessories and adjustments can help ease the ache without tying you down.
Baby your eyes with a filter
Anti-glare filters can help reduce the eyestrain you can get from staring at shiny, reflective screens (you tend to blink less when looking at them), says ergonomics expert Alan Hedge, director of Cornell Universitys Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory. The Protection Filters from 3M ($35 to $55, depending on monitor size, at Staples) attach to your screen with small plastic clips. If you need both a glare fix and an answer for nosy java-joint neighbors, 3Ms Privacy Filters ($40 to $60 at OfficeMax) make your screen seem black to anyone not looking at it dead-on.
Save your back with a stand
Traded your desktop for a laptop but still feel tethered to your desk? A stand can help eliminate many problems, including the back and shoulder pain that Boston University researchers recently documented in 90 percent of laptop users they studied. Experts say the aches come from squeezing your arms together to finger a laptops compressed keyboard and hunching over to see the low screen. The APC Ergonomic Notebook Stand with USB 2.0 Hub ($79.99 at Best Buy) offers relief by elevating your screen to eye level and providing space and hookups for a full-size keyboard and mouse. The stand connects to your laptop via a short USB cable, and you plug the other devices into the stand. Got to run to a meeting or catch a flight? Just unplug the one USB cable from your laptop and go.
Lighten your load
The right laptop case is a must for long airport dashes that can do a number on your shoulders and back. Thats why wheeled bags are so popular with the frequent-flyer crowd. We like the Travelpro Runway Deluxe Brief/Tote ($199.99 at Marshall Fields and Bloomingdales), with single-hand operation and ergonomic zipper pulls. For the nonwheeled, try the American Chiropractic Association–endorsed Kensington Contour Carrying Case line ($59.99 to $129.99, depending on bag size, at Best Buy, Circuit City, or www.kensington.com). Because the case hugs your body, the laptop feels lighter, and the heavily padded strap eases shoulder strain. Another smart option: the classy Pacific Design Urban Executive Case ($99.95 at www.pacificdesign.com), whose vertical style allows you to more evenly distribute the weight of your computer on your hip.
Beat heat with a cooling pad
Most laptops heat up pretty fast, and a cooling pad can protect you from the kind of thigh burns reported by laptop users in a number of medical journals. A pad might also guard against another problem identified in a recent State University of New York at Stony Brook study on men: hikes in scrotal temperature, which can decrease fertility. Take the edge off with the comfortable and lightweight (less than a pound) Targus Chill Mat ($29.99 at CompUSA and Staples), a sleek silver pad that uses ultraquiet fans to suck heat away from your notebook. The mat makes your computer run cooler on both your legs and hard surfaces, and that may extend its life.
Take frequent breaks
Beyond accessories, Cornells Hedge says just taking a breather can do wonders for aches and pains. But if youre so busy blogging that you forget to step away and stretch, try reminder software. Stretch Break 6.0 ($44.95 at www.stretchbreak.com) flashes a box on your screen every 30 minutes (or however often you like) with directions for three quick body and eye stretches. It plays soothing music, too.
How to Beat BlackBerry Thumb
Regular use of those Lilliputian keyboards on personal digital assistants (PDAs) like the BlackBerry can lead to thumb tendonitis. “If youre text messaging ‘R U there? youre probably not going to have problems,” says Cornell University ergonomics expert Alan Hedge. But lengthier missives mean trouble. His advice: Keep your wrists straight while typing, rest arms on pillows, and take breaks. Better yet, connect a specially designed Man and Machine keyboard ($80 to $189 at www.man-machine.com). Theyre big enough to let you type with all your fingers, water resistant, and rubbery so you can roll them up for storage.