Laptop-itis Hits College Campuses


A new medical condition is lurking on campus, in coffee shops and even in your own bedroom. Chances are, you’re not immune either.

“Laptop-itis” is a term coined by Kevin Carneiro, assistant professor of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine.

Laptop-itis stems from poor posture and includes neck pain, headaches, back pain and tingling fingers.

The University does not track personal devices, so it isn’t possible to know how many students own laptops.

However, according to EDUCAUSE, a group that researches information technology at universities, about 75 percent of college students owned laptops in 2007.

Sandra Bowman, physical therapy supervisor at Watkins Memorial Health Center, said students are already at risk for poor posture because of sustained sitting from class and studying. She also said some people tend to let gravity take over and not pay attention to their posture.

Nikhil Menon, a senior from Topeka, studies at the library about four days a week. He admits to hunching over his laptop and not paying attention to his posture. He said he sometimes gets back pain and thinks his posture could be a factor.

Bowman said laptops accentuate problems with poor posture.

“Laptops force students to work in a very confined space,” Bowman said.

Bowman said laptops force people to project their heads forward to focus on laptop screens. This can cause weaknesses in the neck and upper back.

Keyboards on laptops don’t help either.

Conventional keyboards for desktop computers are angled for better ergonomics. But laptop keyboards force people to type in one of two ways, Bowman said.

Some people type with their wrists resting on the edge of the keyboard. Others type with their wrists above the keyboard and bow their hands. Both of these methods cause swelling and compression of the nerves and tendons of the wrist and lower forearm. Repetitive compression can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.

About the same number of students are being treated by Watkins for problems, Bowman said, but there has been a transition in the past eight years.

Reader poll

Where do you experience pain when using your laptop?

Back 19% 23 votes
Wrist 21% 26 votes
Forearm 5% 6 votes
Neck 22% 27 votes
I don’t experience any pain when using my laptop 31% 38 votes
120 total votes.

“Whereas things were one-sided before when people were using one hand to take notes, things are more bilateral now.”

Alicen Fleming, a sophomore from Wichita, said she has noticed her wrists hurting after using her laptop for a long period of time. She said she finds herself rolling her wrists, readjusting her shoulders and back and sometimes popping her neck.

It’s not likely in this age that these problems will go away.

Not only are students tied to their laptops, but also gaming and cell phones.

“It’s all repetitive hand movements that we’re doing,” Bowman said. “Typing, gaming and texting.”

Most college students have stopped growing, but poor posture now can lead to problems later in life. Students who are hunched over laptops could potentially assume that position.

“What we’ll see more and more are people with their heads forward and their upper backs rounded out,” Bowman said.

Both Bowman and Carneiro recommend students use accessories for their laptops like external keyboards and mice when possible.


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