How can I use a desktop computer while lying down?
February 9, 2010 11:54 AM   Subscribe

How can I use a desktop computer while lying down in order to avoid severe back pain?

I have had back pain for 20+ years and it has gotten worse even after a lumbar fusion (12 years ago). Recently I've tried all sorts of tests with negative results (myelogram, mri, ct scan), and all the pain meds I've tried give me terrible side effects. I am trying to swim and do some basic yoga, but I'm being sabotaged by having to sit in a computer chair 8-12 hours a day. After I sit for about 5 minutes I sart to get severe pain in my back and numbness and pain in my leg. I've tried my chairs, cushions, exercise balls, etc. to no avail. I try to take breaks, but getting up every 5 minutes isn't practical as I am a programmer.

I'm afraid of losing my job. I was thinking that if there was some way I could lie down and work, I could talk my boss into letting me work from home. Does anyone know of a good setup for working lying down? I hate laptops and small keyboards/screens ... I guess I could just lie prone and stick my monitor/kb/mouse on the floor, but I'm worried that will create a lot of strain on my shoulders and elbows.

There must be a way to make this work! I get extremely depressed about this and have had to drink more alcohol at night to ease the pain (much better than painkillers). I am even starting to think about applying for disability, but I want to work, and I have a large child support payment to meet. I am generally happy except for this, but it's ruining my life.
posted by freecellwizard to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You want a large laptop (say, 15-17 inches) and a laptop stand

You're a programmer, so presumably you know your keyboard navigation commands well (and if not, learn them!), so you won't really need a mouse - the trackpad, though annoying, will suffice when you need to click on something.
posted by chrisamiller at 12:01 PM on February 9, 2010

I had a friend who rigged something like this up for himself. It worked like this...

- he lay pretty much flat on his back
- monitor [multiple ones actually] suspended above his bed
- CPU next to bed [with long cord]
- keyboard on lap [touch typing sort of essential in this environment
- track ball next to touchpad.

Here is photo. Note: this is even easier nowadays with flatscreen monitors. Alternately a laptop like a ThinkPad which you could open flat could be connected to a flatscreen monitor above you and then would have that little pointer in it as well. There are stores that sell movable arms that you can swing a monitor out on. They're not cheap but might also work okay for you [think hospital televisions]. Here is one example, there are many.
posted by jessamyn at 12:01 PM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Could you set up your computer at the edge of your bed on a surface that's level with the top of the mattress, and then work lying on your stomach with pillows propped under your chest to minimize shoulder strain? You'd have to move around every once in a while to keep your limbs from falling asleep, but it'd be better than the floor, probably.
posted by oinopaponton at 12:06 PM on February 9, 2010

I have a friend who stands when using a desktop computer. She has it on a high table and just stands there.

Not saying this is a solution, but it might help to do a little of this, in order to vary the load on your back.

Good luck.
posted by Danf at 12:09 PM on February 9, 2010

Do you have to be flat? I do this a couple of days a month with very careful pillow placement and a heating pad. Not using the mouse as much as possible makes a difference.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 12:11 PM on February 9, 2010

How handy are you? (Or do you have a handy spouse/friend?) I would get a large flat screen monitor and set it up at the end of the bed on a table of sufficient height so you can see over your upturned toes. Next, I would make (or ask someone to make) a bed tray that was shaped like a small desk, tilted about 45 degrees, with a lip on the bottom. The desk needs to have sides that come down to the bed top, but no back. It needs to be about four inches wider than a keyboard and needs to come down just to the top of your legs. Now, glue a mouse pad down on the right side of the surface. Install a USB cordless keyboard and mouse on your computer.

Type away.

(A hospital over-bed table might work for this, but it is less clumsy to have a small table that you can just set over you when you want to work.)
posted by Old Geezer at 12:47 PM on February 9, 2010

I like standing at my computer so I can move around to relieve my (sometimes serious) lower back pain. I find any one position for too long starts to hurt. Plus, standing helps keep muscle tone and burns more calories as opposed to laying on your back for 8-12 hours a day which could be very bad in the long run for your muscles in your back especially. It's better to be working the muscles so they don't atrophy and make your pain worse!

I do knee bends and stretches while waiting for the computer to process things, as always seems to be a part of using one for work. Just make sure you arrange it so you have your hands in an ergonomically appropriate spot (ie not out from your sides or you'll strain your shoulders) and the screen in such a place that your head and neck can be in perfect posture.

Standing all day can be a challenge at first, but once you get used to it, you will find it easy and wonder how people can sit all day!
posted by smartypantz at 1:04 PM on February 9, 2010

Standing workstations are very common and can be set up in a normal cube. Basically they just need to raise the work surface to a comfortable work height. Most often I see this with a bar stool type chair in case the worker does need to sit down.
posted by chairface at 1:15 PM on February 9, 2010

BTW, be cautious about using alcohol to relieve pain. That doesn't lead to a happy ending.
posted by chairface at 1:16 PM on February 9, 2010

I had a friend for whom I rigged a projector so she could lie on the floor with her laptop and view the image projected on to the ceiling. There are also very expensive gadgets that are purpose built for this, such as those made by ergoquest.
posted by jewzilla at 1:29 PM on February 9, 2010

I work from bed and I use a laptop, and I'm a (web)developer. While I don't always spend my time working, I'd say I spend a good 4-5 hours daily in bed on my laptop.

Using a laptop is not as good as a PC, but it can work. I haven't found a way to make good use of anything external in bed, so I use the built on keyboard, mouse, monitor (I tried external monitor/mouse and did not like it). I go to my desktop if I need anything that requires fine mouse precision; graphics or gaming come to mind.

I usually do this on my back with a pillow under my head and rested against the headboard, laptop somewhere on my crotch.

This does start to get uncomfortable after a while so I do lay down on my stomach occasionally and prop myself up on my elbows; this works but actually causes a lot of stress on the lower back. In fact, I recommend against doing this. It would probably be better to a) take a break or b) sit at a computer rather than doing the laying on stomach position.
posted by Sonic_Molson at 2:33 PM on February 9, 2010

Do you need to lie on your back? I've got pretty nasty back issues myself, and my stabilization routine is to lie prone, then to raise myself up on my elbows to stretch and readjust my back. I haven't had a fusion, but I have had two diskectomies. Have you heard of Treat Your Own Back? It has a lot of exercises to do to, well, treat your back.

If lying prone is an option, what I did after my first surgery was lie on the floor with a couple pillows under my chest, lifting me up enough to use the laptop on the floor. Your head is elevated, and your arms are free to use both keyboard and mouse. It could work with a desktop, but if the screen is too high, you'd be in danger of over extending, and also straining your neck.

And also, alcohol + painkillers, especially stuff like ibuprofen is really, really bad. If you drink, don't take anything for the pain. It does bad things to your liver, and it doesn't help your kidneys either.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:09 PM on February 9, 2010

Buy these.

I have had a pair for ten years, and you will have to pry them from my cold, dead, RSI-free hands.
posted by tzikeh at 6:01 PM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Consider using a trackball instead of a mouse. That way you're not moving your wrist, arm and shoulder. It might be worth mounting the keyboard and trackball to a shelf of some sort that straddled you. Perhaps with some sort of pillows or other supports under your elbows to allow raising your hands to a workable position (without tiring out your shoulder and chest muscles). There are chording type keyboards that would allow you to keep your hands separate, but those would require a fair bit of relearning how to type. Not sure where but I recall seeing a split version of a regular keyboard.

As for chairs, I found it very important to get one best suited for ME. These typically cost me around $1k and usually last about 6 years. Ones with a lot of adjustability are important. Not because you'll be changing the position, more than it'll take time to find the right position. I've found the 'Experience' model from Global to be just about perfect.
posted by wkearney99 at 7:41 AM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Danf: "I have a friend who stands when using a desktop computer. She has it on a high table and just stands there.

Not saying this is a solution, but it might help to do a little of this, in order to vary the load on your back.

Good luck.

Indeed, I believe I've heard of adjustable desks made to adjust between sitting and standing positions. Here's one I found on a quick Google search. If you can't do manual desk adjustments, you might try an electric one.
posted by IndigoRain at 10:46 PM on February 10, 2010

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