Posture and Ergonomics for Digital Nomads

When preparing to head off travelling, plenty of people worry over which laptop and equipment they should buy to make that switch to working wanderer. But what too few of us remember to do is think about how becoming a full-time laptop user is going to impact our health. You may not be guilty of this and if so I congratulate you. Keep doing what you're doing. This post is for those who haven't thought much about posture while travelling and working full-time.

Definitely not one of my finer moments when it comes to a good makeshift work space.

I got a scary wake-up call a couple of weeks ago. I'm not travelling at the moment but for about fifteen months I was using only makeshift workstations while we were on our around the world trip. I've never had any back problems until now and I'm still reasonably young (early thirties), so I really didn't think about the impact my computer use and crappy posture were having on my back. I'd work in bed with the laptop, sitting on airport benches or in front of plane or train tray tables. Desks and chairs were rarely ever in the proper alignment while I was using them to work on the computer. This is difficult to avoid when travelling. I've found that even luxury hotel room desks and chairs are not always designed for ideal posture, never mind what you'll find in a mid-range or budget offering.

One Friday night after a full day sitting in front of the computer I began to have really powerful muscle spasms in my lower back. I could barely walk and when they hit me the pain was like nothing I'd ever experienced before. Over the next couple of days the spasms eased off but my body had become contracted on my right side (I'm right- handed) so that one leg felt shorter than the other and my back was curved to one side. I looked as if I had scoliosis and I was completely locked up and could not stretch out my right side. Any attempts to straighten myself out were met with stiff resistance and sometimes a confronting spasm - my body's way of telling me, "Uh, uh. Not happening. This is your punishment."

This may look at bit better but those trendy dining chairs are not intended for hours of seated computer use.

Things eventually became so bad that I could not lay down in bed. I had (and still have) two large knots in my lower back and laying on them had become intolerable. When I had to spend the night stretched across two bean bag chairs in the living room because it was impossible to find a non-excruciating position in bed, I consulted a naprapat recommended by a friend of mine. I've been trying to find a website in English that describes this practice but, having never heard of it until now, am assuming it's a Scandinavian thing. If you have a translator on your browser and are interested you can read more in the Wikipedia article. After one session I was remarkably better and am continuing the therapy once a week. I've also improved my posture, which is easier because I am at home and have a proper desk setup.

Because I did not have a specific instance of injury, I'm pretty sure my problems were caused by my total disrespect for my body over the last year and a half when using the computer. If you're about to quit your job and head off on a long adventure with your computer in tow you may find you've taken for granted that nice ergonomic workstation at your office. Human beings were not designed to sit upright for hours at a time and work at a computer as it is; they were especially not intended to use a laptop.

As soon as I buy a new desktop computer, this setup will be perfect. I have a proper desk chair and everything is adjusted to the correct height. This is not a luxury afforded to travellers unfortunately.

Laptops cause special kinds of problems. Your head is bent over awkwardly and your hands are in a terrible position over those small keyboards. Even now as I type this I'm waiting anxiously for the day when I buy a desktop computer. I'm in a perfect ergonomic position otherwise but it's impossible to get completely comfortable.

You cannot have perfect posture when using a laptop but I wrote this post to remind everyone to take care of your body when you're working on the road and do your best to practice good posture. I'm not an expert in this area so I've pulled together a few articles and videos that will help you with this:

Good Posture to Maintain While Using Laptop at Home, Office and while Traveling :: Technified

5 Solutions to Create Good Ergonomics for the Nu Nomad Office :: NuNomad

Tips for proper Laptop-Ergonomics :: Physical Therapy Coach

What are your good posture tips for working from the road?

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8 years ago

Nice to read a post about this. I’ve had back problems ever since I was 17 and when I went to university I had an all adapted desk with ergonomic chair. Now that I’m living with my boyfriend, however, my desk kind of became his desk and I often work at our eating table, but when I know I’m going to work for several hours in a row, I still drag my ergonomic chair into the living room! Also, my problems started when they found out I’ve got a hernia in my lower back. The professor who treated me at… Read more »

8 years ago
Reply to  Sofie

Very good advice, Sofie – thanks! =)

8 years ago

Lol, reading my comment again I see I might have gotten a little carried away wit the story tellyng. Sorry ’bout that:D

Another good excersize: squads! Make sure to stick out your but when your bending and tuck it back in when your standing up.

Just to get ya going:D

Posture is so easy to forget and yet my back reminds me every time. I’d be curious to find out what percentage of travel bloggers/writers suffer from back pain. I know we do.

9 years ago

My back is finally feeling 100% after a complete ergonomic rehaul in my new office…I have an adjustable chair and an elevated block (well, actually a few books) to put my feet on. The latter is what got me back in shape again – I had no idea how much strain not having your legs at a 90 degree angle puts on your back. Life’s too short for crippling pain!

Posture is so important and it is so easy to sit in aweful positions when working on the road… and believe me… its important! Im only 26 and I have to pay of chiropractor 1300 to fix my neck!

9 years ago

My bills are getting up there too, Jade…

9 years ago

thanks for the reminder. I can actually feel your pain. that happened to me when I leaned over in an attempt to open my garage door. My breath was taken away from my body and all I wanted to do was lie on the ground and whimper.

9 years ago
Reply to  jenjenk

It always seems to come to a head on a forward bend, doesn’t it?

9 years ago

You should consider getting a Gravitonus workstation. That thing looks awesome.

9 years ago
Reply to  Ned

Never heard of it – going to check it out! Thanks for the tip =)

Thank you for working with Straigh To The Point.
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