The Grapevine

iPad Giving You A Pain In The Neck? Blame Your Posture

Touchscreens have become an increasingly normalized aspect of daily life, especially for those who need to use screen devices as a part of their work. But unlike desktop computers, tablets and smartphones can cause people to slouch and tilt their head downward for long periods of time.

New findings revealed who is most at risk of developing neck strain from this habit (sometimes known as "iPad neck") and why time spent using devices is not the biggest factor.

The study titled "Gender and posture are significant risk factors to musculoskeletal symptoms during touchscreen tablet computer use" was published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science on June 12.

"Such high prevalence of neck and shoulder symptoms, especially among the younger populations, presents a substantial burden to society," said lead author Szu-Ping Lee, who is a physical therapy professor at University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

The researchers surveyed 412 participants including public university students, staff, faculty, and alumni. They were asked about their tablet usage habits as well as potential complaints regarding neck and shoulder strain.

When quantifying data, Lee noted how he was surprised by the top risk factor. "Theoretically, the more hours you spend bent over an iPad, the more neck and shoulder pain you experience — but what we found is that time is not the most important risk factor. Rather, it's gender and specific postures."

The postures associated with symptoms of pain or discomfort included sitting without back support, placing the device on the lap during use, or sitting in a chair with the tablet placed flat on the table. The lack of back support, in particular, had a two-fold increase in the risk of experiencing symptoms.

Stiffness, soreness, and aching pain in parts of the upper body (the neck, upper back, shoulders, arms, hands, or head) were the symptoms reported most frequently. The findings revealed that more young adults reported these aching body parts compared to older adults. 

A gender difference was also observed where women were almost 3 times more likely to experience neck and shoulder strain during iPad use than men. Additionally, 77 percent of women reported using their tablets while sitting on the floor compared to only 23 percent of men.

The researchers added that women tend to have lower muscle strength than their male counterparts. Having a smaller stature could also make them assume more extreme postures when using devices. 

"Using these electronic devices is becoming a part of our modern lives," Lee stated. "In order to reduce the risk of developing long-term neck and shoulder problems, we need to think about how technology like tablet computer affects human ergonomics and posture."

To reduce the risk of developing the iPad neck, he recommended sitting on chairs that provide back support when using devices. Placing the iPad on a stand can also help make sure you are not forced to face downwards. If you have gotten used to improper posture, Lee recommended investing in a posture reminder device which can beep or mildly vibrate when it detects slouching.

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