LAS VEGAS — Suffering from “iPad neck” — that is, frequent neck and shoulder pain from slouching over a tablet or digital device — is a growing problem among Americans, a new study finds, but researchers say that women are actually twice as likely to develop the condition than men.
The ability to bring iPads and other tablet devices with us wherever we go has only worsened total screen time for many adults. The study’s authors, however, believe that “iPad neck” has more to do with poor posture than the amount of time consumers are spending in front of their mobile screens.
For the study, researchers from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas partnered with hospitals and physical therapy centers in southern Nevada and conducted a survey of 412 university students, staff, faculty, and alumni who regularly use tablet devices. They calculated that women were 2.059 times more likely to experience musculoskeletal symptoms when using tablets as men. Seven in 10 women who took the survey acknowledged suffering from iPad neck, compared to about 3 in 10 men.
Younger adults were also shown to battle the condition more frequently than older users.
“Such high prevalence of neck and shoulder symptoms, especially among the younger populations, presents a substantial burden to society,” says UNLV physical therapy professor and lead author Szu-Ping Lee in a release. “We were able to quantify exactly how frequent those problems are and what common factors contribute to them. 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.”
Lee’s “specific postures” included sitting with no back support, leaning over the tablet on one’s lap, and sitting in a chair with the tablet placed flat on a table. Common symptoms of iPad neck included stiffness, soreness, or aching pain in the neck, upper back/shoulder, arms/hands, or head. While most sufferers described feeling moderate pain, 1 in 10 reported “severe” pain. Fifteen percent of respondents even lost sleep from the condition.
The authors believe the problem was especially worse for students because many will often do work in unconventional settings — on the floor of a library, or against a tree at a park — that force them to spend more time looking down at their tablets or computers. The survey showed that 77 percent of women reported doing work on the ground compared to 23 percent of men.
“Using these electronic devices is becoming a part of our modern lives,” says Lee. “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.”
He suggests frequent tablet and computer users use chairs with back supports or consider using a stand-up desk or podium when working. Posture devices could also be utilized to help remind sufferers when they’re hunched over, and exercising is always a great way to strength the neck and upper back.
The full study was published in The Journal of Physical Therapy Science.