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Women more at risk for 'iPad neck,' study finds

The length of time spent on a tablet didn’t matter as much as the user’s posture. Here's how to avoid discomfort.
by A. Pawlowski / / Source: TODAY
Woman on tablet
About 70 percent of women in the study said they experienced symptoms, compared to only about 30 percent of men.Getty Images stock

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A tablet can give a user — especially a woman — a serious crick in the neck.

Women were twice as likely to report discomfort while using iPads, e-readers and similar gadgets as men, a recent study published in The Journal of Physical Therapy Science found. It’s the first study to look at “tech neck” issues related to tablet use, the authors said.

The length of time spent on a tablet didn’t matter as much as the user’s posture. Sitting without back support and placing the iPad in a lap or on a flat surface produced the most problems — forcing a hunched-over position. Still, most people told researchers they didn’t stop using their tablets when their bodies began to ache.

It’s a big deal since neck discomfort can become chronic neck pain, which often leads to headaches that can cause people to miss work and otherwise disrupt life, said Szu-Ping Lee, the lead author and an assistant professor of physical therapy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Ignoring “iPad neck” can lead to long-term consequences down the road, he noted.

“Pain is a warning sign and if there’s pain and it’s being ignored… then over time, this is going to become more persistent and could become a chronic problem that requires surgery,” Lee told TODAY.

Women and young people suffered more

For the study, researchers asked 412 university students, faculty and staff about their tablet use. More than two-thirds of the participants reported some sort of discomfort while using their devices, with about 85 percent of them experiencing neck symptoms, 65 percent reporting shoulder and upper back issues, and one-third complaining of discomfort in the arms or hands. The most common symptoms were stiffness, soreness and outright pain.

Some 70 percent of female respondents said they experienced symptoms, compared to only about 30 percent of men. Previous studies have found women are more likely to develop neck pain than men and less likely to recover, the authors said.

That may be happening for several reasons, including gender differences in the size and function of the human body, Lee said. In general, women have lower muscle strength and a smaller body size than men, which can make a difference when you’re hunched over or holding a tablet for hours. Women may also be more attuned or sensitive to pain, Lee added.

Students had a higher prevalence of pain than other people in the study, he noted.

“If the younger, supposedly healthier, college-age people are suffering from this with significantly higher frequency, then we fear that down the road we may be looking at higher frequency of neck pain when they get older,” Lee said.

The worst position to take when using a tablet:

Sitting without back support, sitting with the device in your lap or placing it flat on a desk surface in front of you led to discomfort, the study found. Those positions force users to slump over, bend their neck and point their gaze downward towards the screen.

“That really puts a lot of stress on the cervical spine,” Lee said. “The head, it’s not overly heavy, but if you are tilting downward, that really puts more stress on those supporting structures [in the neck].”

An adult head weighs 10-12 pounds in a neutral position, but by tilting it forward, the forces it exerts on the neck can surge — up to 60 pounds when the head is tilted by 60 degrees, a previous study on tech neck related to smartphone use found.

Using a tablet while lying on your side or your back also led to aches.

The best position to take:

Sit in a chair with back support and don’t place the tablet in a way that forces your gaze to be pointed down, Lee said. An iPad stand can help in that regard.

Whenever possible, take breaks, stand up and stretch to reboot your posture.

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