iPad, Tablet: Neck Pain & Other Adverse Health Effects

iPad, tablets can cause neck pain—Harvard study: A deep ache in your neck, shoulder or arm. Burning or tingling of the arm or hand. Headaches. Limited neck movement or painful movement. Stiffness of the neck and shoulder muscles. Short bursts of excruciating pain in the arm, back or shoulders. Intense pain that lasts for two to three days. Or pain that starts gradually but worsens over time.

Did you know that you can get all that from using an iPad or any other computer tablet?

Sure, everybody wants one, it seems: in the last three months of 2011, Apple sold a record-breaking 15.43 million iPads, the Los Angeles Times reports. And only last week, Apple announced it’s planning to bring textbooks to the iPad—meaning that more school kids will be using those tablets.

But do you think your kids know how to use the tablets safely? Do you?

A new study, undertaken jointly by the Harvard School of Public Health, Microsoft Corp. and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, says that working with an iPad while it’s resting in your lap can cause shoulder and neck pain.

Tablet users who hold the device at their lap, or rest the tablet in a case on their lap, are putting a lot of strain on their neck muscles—much more than those using a laptop or desktop computer, the study authors warn.

“Compared to typical desktop computing scenarios, the use of media tablet computers is associated with high head and neck flexion (flexed) postures, and there may be more of a concern for the development of neck and shoulder discomfort,” says lead investigator Jack Dennerlein, Senior Lecturer on Ergonomics and Safety at the Harvard School of Public Health in a Jan. 27 news release.

Dennerlein is also associated with the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and is the Director of the Occupational Biomechanics and Ergonomics Laboratory of Harvard’s Department of Environmental Health.

The study, the first to examine the physical effects of computer tablet use on the head, neck and shoulders of users, was published in the journal Work: A Journal of Prevention, Assessment, and Rehabilitation.

“If you think about your position when you are hunched over looking down, your head is hanging out over space, so you are using your neck muscles to support the weight,” Dennerlein explains.

For the study, Dennerlein and colleagues asked 15 experienced tablet users to complete common tasks like surfing the Internet, watching movies, emailing, reading and playing games with two types of tablet devices—an Apple iPad2 and a Motorola Xoom.

All the tablets had a proprietary case that allowed users to tilt it up while using, at a low or high angle: The Apple Smart Cover offers tilt angles of 15° and 73°, and the Motorola Portfolio Case enables tilt angles of 45° and 63°, the HealthDay News reports.

To test how various positions affected their neck and shoulders, study participants positioned their tablets in various ways—either in their lap and on a table at various angles.

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