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Published on September 10, 2018

Is your tablet giving you a pain in the neck?Is your tablet giving you a pain in the neck?

Americans are suffering through an epidemic of neck and shoulder pain – and our electronic gadgets are part of the reason, according to a recent study.

Feeling some twinges or aches right now? Read on and we’ll tell you how to avoid what some physical therapists are calling “iPad neck.”

Researchers at The University of Nevada, Las Vegas, studied the tablet use of students, staff, faculty, and alumni and found that 55 percent had moderate discomfort and 10 percent had severe neck and shoulder pain. The findings were published in The Journal of Physical Therapy Science.

The top risk factors were unexpected, according to the lead author of the study, UNLV physical therapy professor Szu-Ping Lee.

“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,” he said in a press release. “Rather, it’s gender and specific postures.”

“I was not at all surprised by the study results, based on what we see here in the clinic,” said Julie Messenger, a physical therapist at Cape Cod Healthcare’s Oppenheim Medical Building in Chatham.

She added that she sees similar complaints from users of cell phones and laptop computers.

“I think the interesting part is that even those who have the discomfort don’t stop,” she said. “Maybe they feel they don’t have a choice because they have to do a school or work assignment. So, even if you’re in pain, you’re still going to maintain that posture because you have to get the job done.”

How To Avoid It

If you’re reading or working with a tablet or computer in your lap or spending hours looking down at a cellphone, that’s not a good angle, Messenger said.

“It’s the slouching that leads to the pain – that position where your head and your shoulders start migrating towards the tablet or the computer, or whatever screen you’re using,” she said. “Your shoulders get round, your head gets closer, and you’re putting a lot of strain on your neck and your upper back.”

Two things will help, according to Messenger:

  • Better positioning of your devices.
  • Addressing your body’s weaknesses.

Whether you’re at home, school or work, try to have the screen at eye level, she said.

“It’s hard with a laptop because the keyboard is attached to the actual screen, so if you have it in your lap, your arms are at a good position, but your head is looking down. If you have it on a high counter, your head is in a good position but your arms are a little higher. Using a stand with a wireless keyboard is helpful.

“With phones or e-readers, instead of just sitting with it in your lap and looking down, try propping your elbows up on a couple of pillows. That way your arms are resting on the pillows, but the screen is closer to eye level and you don’t have to look down.”

Set a timer, so at least once an hour you get up to move your body, maybe to walk a lap around the office or get a cup of water, she said.

Strengthen Your Muscles

You also can prevent neck and shoulder pain by strengthening key muscles.

“You can do yoga type exercises for flexibility and stability, or you can do resistance strengthening of your upper back and shoulders,” she said. “That will help with the postural maintenance.

“One of the most important things is to strengthen your trunk, your core, because if you don’t have that support from your pelvis, abdominals and your low back, then the rest of your body is going to kind of slouch with it.”

The UNLV study found that women were twice as likely to experience “iPad neck.”

“It’s a physiological difference,” said Messenger.  “Women, in general, are not as strong when it comes to the muscular-skeletal system. Also, having a more narrow frame versus a wider frame could create more of that musculoskeletal pain.”

Awareness is the number one issue, she said.

“You have to be aware of your posture and make sure that you’re not leaning into the screen the whole time,” she said. When you start to feel a little stiff or painful, just give yourself a break.”