4 tips for preventing neck strain when using a tablet computer

Posted October 15, 2012, 11:31 am

Using a tablet computer shouldn’t be a pain in the neck. For all too many people, though, it is just that, along with a pain in the shoulders and back. Why? Widely popular tablets like the iPad, Nook, Kindle Fire, and Xoom are so light and easy to handle that you can hold one on your lap or in your hand. That can put you in a position that’s bad for your neck, shoulders, and back.

You may have used trial-and-error to find tablet positions that work for you. Dr. Jack Dennerlein and his colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health have brought technology to bear on the problem. Using a sophisticated infrared 3-D motion analysis system, they tracked how different tablet positions affect the body.

They asked 15 experienced tablet users to perform various tasks on an iPad or a Xoom. The tablets had special cases that could be adjusted to prop them up at specific angles. Each volunteer browsed the Internet, responded to email, played games, and watched a movie with the tablet on his or her lap and on a table at different angles. (You can see the positions here.)

The researchers found that working with a tablet held on the lap or placed flat on a table makes the neck bend much more than does working with a desktop or notebook computer. Neck-wise, the best tablet orientation was having it propped up on a table. (Whether this will be good for the hands and wrists is grist for future work.)

Dr. Dennerlein offers several tips for easing neck strain while working with a tablet computer.

  • Place the tablet on a table.
  • Use a case that holds it at a comfortable viewing angle.
  • Shift your hands, your weight, or even stand up when you can.
  • Take a break every 15 minutes.

As I write in the October issue of the Harvard Health Letter, good posture is equally important when using a notebook or desktop computer.

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