Are tablets a pain in the neck?

written by Terry Robson


Nothing happens in isolation. If you drop a pebble in the pond here there is a ripple, be it ever so small, that reaches the opposite bank. In a time where new technologies are being released, it seems, every day the ripples are many and they are producing waves of unmeasured effect. One new study though has looked at the health implications of a most popular piece of technology; the tablet computer.

The new research, done through Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital sought to establish the effect of increasing tablet use on posture. The research was done because tablets are very popular but their mode of use is very different to that of desk top computers or laptop computers or notebooks.

In the study subjects completed a set of tasks such as Internet browsing and reading, game playing, email reading and responding, and movie watching. For the study they used one of two tablets, an Apple iPad2 or a Motorola Xoom. Each tablet had a proprietary case that could be adjusted to prop up or tilt the tablet computer. The Apple Smart Cover allows for tilt angles of 15° and 73°, and the Motorola Portfolio Case allows for tilt angles of 45° and 63°. Four user configurations were tested: Lap-Hand (where the tablet was placed on the lap); Lap-Case (with the tablet placed on the lap in its case set at the lower angle setting); Table-Case (with the tablet placed on a table with its case at the lower angle); and Table-Movie (with the tablet placed on a table with its case at the higher angle).

The participants head and neck postures and gaze angle and distance were measured using an infrared three-dimensional motion analysis system.

For both tablets, the gaze angle changed in a similar fashion to the head flexion across all configurations, with non-perpendicular viewing angles causing increased head and neck flexion. Head and neck flexion angles were greater, in general, than reported for desktop or notebook computing. Only when the tablets were used in the Table-Movie configuration, where the devices were set at their steepest case angle setting and at the greatest horizontal and vertical position, did posture approach neutral. Of course, the steeper and more close to perpendicular the screen, the more difficult it is to use the touch screen.

So it seems that tablet use is innately negative for your neck and shoulders. If you are an avid adopter of the new technology, it might be an idea to put your chiropractor on speed dial (mind you, “dialling” is so 20th century!).

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Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the editor-in-chief of WellBeing.