SIUH Occupational Therapist Offers Tips for Avoiding iPad Neck Pain


Aches and pains in your neck? Blame your iPad

Published: Wednesday, February 15, 2012, 9:25 AM     Updated: Wednesday, February 15, 2012, 9:29 AM
Staten Island Advance  
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -  ALL SHORES - That pain in your neck could be caused by your iPad. According to a new study, users of touch-screen computer tablets experience more strain to their muscles than those using desktop or laptop computers. 

The problem is that users of tablets often hunch over, craning their necks as they stare down at the screens. The position forces neck and shoulder muscles to work overtime to support the weight of the head, which, in turn, leads to aches and pains. 

"The desktop is so much more customizable because you can set up the individual components (screen and keyboard) to fit your needs," said Barry Lei, an occupational therapist for Staten Island University Hospital's rehabilitation department. "Even a laptop screen can be tilted to accommodate the user." 

For the study, researchers from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), Microsoft Corporation and Brigham Women's Hospital looked at the physical effects of tablet use on 15 people. 

Study participants were asked to use the devices – an Apple iPad2 and a Motorola Xoom – while sitting in one of four positions: Holding it flat on their lap; resting it at an angle on a case on their lap; propping it upon a case on a table at a low angle, and tilting it at a high angle for watching movies. Their head and neck movements, as well as gaze angle, were captured and analyzed using motion sensors. 

"The beauty of tablets and other mobile devices is their flexibility," said Jack Dennerlein, lead author of the study and director of the occupational biomechanics and ergonomics laboratory at HSPH. "You can use them almost anywhere and in different ways. You can hold them in your lap; you can hold them in your hand. The problem is that some of the postures people are in when using a tablet can be awkward and lead to discomfort with prolonged use." 

The researchers found that neck flexion was more pronounced in participants viewing the tablets on their laps than when they were propped on a table. 

Participants who used the devices positioned at a high angle on a table fared best, according to the researchers. This position allowed users to assume a more neutral sitting posture with their necks straight and eyes gazing forward. 

Results of the study were published last month in the peer-reviewed "Work: A Journal of Prevention, Assessment and Rehabilitation." A future study will focus on possible injuries to the hand and wrist caused by tablet use. 

According to the HSPH, the findings will help companies develop new ergonomic guidelines as tablets become more common in the work place. 

While SIUH's Lei hasn't seen any iPad-related neck pain cases yet, he does expect to in the future. 

"I think it will occur more frequently as more people are using it over a long period of time," said Lei who specializes in hand therapy. 
This column is published as a community service, thanks to Staten Island University Hospital. It was written by Diane O'Donnell, who is employed at the hospital. 

Tips for tablet users

To avoid suffering iPad-related discomfort, do the following. 

Every 15 minutes or so, take a break. Step away from the iPad and stretch. 

If you're watching a movie or reading an e-book, prop the tablet into a nearly vertical position on a table to make it viewable at eye level. 

If you’re typing on a tablet, place it on a table so that it’s tilted on a 10- or 15-degree angle with your hands supported. Note: This position is not ideal for your neck, but it will reduce the tension on the wrist and hands. 

SOURCE: Staten Island University Hospital 

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