Friday 23 October, 2020

What a pain! Women more likely to suffer from iPad neck

Poor posture is said to be the cause of neck pain suffered by users of tablet computers. 

Dubbed 'iPad neck', this neck pain is said to be experienced mainly by women, a study found. 

The findings, released in The Journal of Physical Therapy Science, show that the condition is usually associated with sitting without back support, such as on a bench or on the ground, or slumping over the tablet while it rests in the user's lap. Other postures significantly associated with pain included using tablets while lying on the side or back.

The condition is also mre prevalent among young adults and women were 2.059 times more likely to experience musculoskeletal symptoms during iPad use than men.

People with a history of neck and shoulder pain also reported experiencing more neck and shoulder symptoms during tablet computer use. 

UNLV physical therapy professor Szu-Ping Lee, lead author of the study, said the results concern him, especially given the growing popularity of tablet computers, e-book readers, and other connected devices for personal, school, and business purposes.

"Such high prevalence of neck and shoulder symptoms, especially among the younger populations, presents a substantial burden to society," he said.

"We were able to quantify exactly how frequent those problems are and what common factors contribute to them," Lee said. The top risk factor was surprising. "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." 

UNLV — in conjunction with researchers from hospitals and physical therapy centres across Southern Nevada — conducted a survey of 412 public university students, staff, faculty, and alumni (135 men and 275 women) who are touchscreen tablet computer users about their device usage habits and neck/shoulder complaints. (No word on how many of those surveyed completed the questionnaire on an iPad.)

The most frequently reported symptoms were stiffness, soreness, or aching pain in the neck, upper back/shoulder, arms/hands, or head. Most (55 percent) reported moderate discomfort, but 10 percent said their symptoms were severe and 15 percent said it affected their sleep. 

Postures that led to pain included those that cause the tablet user to "slump" over and gaze downward:

  • Sitting without back support (This increased odds of pain by over two times)
     
  • Sitting with the device in the lap
     
  • Sitting in a chair with the tablet placed on a flat desk surface

Flexing the neck forward for long periods of time can put pressure on the spine, causing neck and shoulder muscle strain and pain.

The pain disparity between genders might be explained by size and movement differences. According to the researchers, women's tendency to have lower muscle strength and smaller stature (for example shorter arms and narrow shoulders) might lead them to assume extreme neck and shoulder postures while typing.

To prevent iPad neck, Lee offered the following tips:

  • Sit in a chair with back support. "And perhaps that's something for building planners to think about: Installing benches or other chairs without back support invites people to crunch down with iPads in their laps, contributing to posture-related pain problems," Lee said.
     
  • Use a posture reminder device. Also known as "posture trainers" or "posture coaches," these small, wearable devices adhere directly to the skin or clip on to clothing and beep to let you know when you're slouching.
     
  • Take a stand. Place your iPad on a stand (rather than a flat surface) and attach a keyboard in order to achieve a more upright posture when using your tablet.
     
  • Exercise to strengthen neck and shoulder muscles. This is particularly important for women who experience neck and shoulder pain.

"Using these electronic devices is becoming a part of our modern lives," Lee said. "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."

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