In January 2012, a study out of the Harvard School of Public Health was published in the journal Work, evaluating neck, shoulder and wrist positions for health volunteers who use tablets regularly, to determine which positions may put people at increased risk of developing pain. The volunteers completed simple tasks with either the Ipad 2 or Motorola Xoom in 4 different positions: Lap-Hand, Lap-Case, Table-Case, Table-Movie. Moreover, each tablet was evaluated using a proprietary case, with low and high angle viewing settings. In each position, the angles of head, eye and tablet position were measured.
The research found that overall, the heads and necks of the participants were in a greater flexed position compared to those typical for desktop and notebook computer users. The greatest strain on the head and neck was noted with Table-Case and Lap-Case positions, with the least strain in the Table-Movie position. There was significant variation between the 2 cases as well, given the variability in viewing angles available with each design.
The issue at the core of this problem is ergonomics (study of equipment use and how to avoid strain/injury while operating it). When computers first came to the market, there was an increased rate of injured workers seeking treatment for neck, upper back and wrist pain, usually due to long hours sitting in front of a computer that was not in an optimal position. Nowadays, many companies institute worksite ergonomic evaluations, ensuring the computer monitor is at eye level, good seat height, use of chair arm rests, etc. However, with the rapid rise in tablet use over the past few years, the medical community hasn’t had a chance to evaluate the ergonomic impact these tablets would have. Now we are starting to see it. The problem is that some of the postures people are in when using a tablet can be awkward and lead to discomfort with prolonged use.
Now, just because I am having a little pain doesn’t mean I’m going to stop using my Ipad (and I’m sure neither will any of you). But modifications can be made to reduce pain levels:
- Vary your posture with use every 15 minutes to reduce the time muscles are kept in a strained positions
- Use a case that doubles as a tablet stand, as this will reduce the need to grip the device and improve the tablet viewing angle, keeping the person’s head in a neutral position and reducing neck strain
- If possible, use your tablet on a table to reduce viewing angles
As tablets continue to become more common in the workplace, ergonomic guidelines for use will be increasingly important. This way, we can all continue to enjoy using our tablets without having to suffer because of it.