iPad and other tablet use can lead to neck, back pain, study says

Touch-screen tablets such as the iPad and the Kindle can save students from carrying heavy backpacks full of textbooks and notebooks, but a new study found these devices are not free of health risks.

The study, which was published earlier this month by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health@@,[email protected]@, found that using touch-screen computer tablets strained muscles in the head and neck more than a desktop or laptop computer would.

Microsoft participated in the research, contributing funding and a team of scientists to the study which appeared in “Work: A Journal of Prevention, Assessment, and Rehabilitation.”@@

Researchers looked at the four most common positions for tablet use: on the lap and in the user’s hand (lap-hand), on the lap and in a case (lap-case), on a table and in a case (table-case), and on a table at a greater angle in the case (table-movie). The table-movie position was deemed the safest because it placed the tablet at an angle where users didn’t have to look down to see the screen. The other three positions put a lot of strain on the head and neck.

Kay Coots, director of Environmental Health and Safety at the University@@[email protected]@, wasn’t surprised by the study.

“Whether it’s an iPad, a tablet or a mobile device, the more we use those small devices, the greater chance we’ll have to strain the neck, arms, shoulders, or wrists,” Coots said. “It’s like watching a movie with your head turned 45 degrees. Of course your neck would hurt by the end of it.”

Although Apple gives safety tips on its website for using desktop computers, the company hasn’t provided safety tips for its popular iPad. New research from the Pew Internet and American Life Project show that the number of Americans who own a computer tablet or e-reader jumped from 18 percent in December to 29 percent in January@@[email protected]@. And with worldwide iPad sales expected to go from an estimated 17.6 million in 2010 to 300 million in 2015@@[email protected]@, Coots worries that with the tablets’ sudden popularity, users won’t know how to use them safely.

University sophomore Kayla Steindorf@@[email protected]@ lounged in a chair in the EMU during the week while playing games on her Kindle Fire between classes. Steindorf uses her Kindle to take notes in class and said she hasn’t had problems with neck pain.

“It’s the same as looking at a piece of paper or taking notes on a piece of paper,” Steindorf said.

University sophomore Leah Mancino@@[email protected]@ also said working on her iPad isn’t any different than reading a textbook. Mancino said she usually props her iPad up on a desk at home.

“It’s a bit more difficult to hold up sometimes compared to other e-readers,” Mancino said. “But it’s much better than having actual textbooks.”

Coots agreed that iPads and other tablets may not strain the neck much more than looking down at textbooks and notes, but she urged students to pay attention to their head and neck posture while studying either way. Coots recommends students take breaks and stretch every 30 minutes if they plan to use the tablets for several hours. She also suggested students create a workstation where the tablet is propped up with a keyboard plugged in, similar to how a desktop computer is set up.

“There’s a lot of alternatives,” she said. “My best advice is to not be on these things for long periods of time.”

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