Women are more than twice as likely as men to experience neck and back pain from using tablets. Here’s how to treat it.
Tablets are a pain in the neck. Literally.
“Tablet neck” or “iPad neck” — the stiffness, soreness, or aching pain in the neck suffered by users slumping over their screens — plagued 84.6% of tablet computer users in a new University of Nevada, Las Vegas study, with upper back and shoulder pain suffered by 65.4% of subjects.
And women were more than twice as likely as men to suffer tablet neck in the survey of 412 public university students, staff, faculty and alumni, with 70% of female subjects reporting discomfort after using their devices, compared to just under 30% of men.
That was partly due to posture. The UNLV researchers found using a tablet while sitting in a “slump” over position led to more pain. That’s because flexing the neck forward for long periods puts pressure on the spine, which strains the neck and shoulder muscles. Sitting without back support increased the odds of iPad neck pain by over two times — and women in the study were more likely (77%) to use their tablets while sitting on the floor than men (23%) were.
Sitting with the tablet in the lap, or sitting in a chair with the tablet placed on a flat desk surface, often led to iPad neck afterward, as well. Most people (55%) complained of moderate discomfort, but 10% said symptoms were severe, and 15% had trouble sleeping.
That’s something Dr. John Abrahams of Brain & Spine Surgeons of New York, has been seeing increasingly in his practice. “People are coming in with neck pain, and they are not realizing that [tablet use] is what it is from,” he told Moneyish. “We ask them, ‘What are you doing a lot of?’ And everyone is looking down at their phone or iPad.”
The UNLV researchers suggested that female tablet users could also be more prone to pain because women tend to have shorter arms and narrower shoulders than men, which could lead to adopting more extreme neck and shoulder postures while using their tablets.
This backs previous reports of “text neck” and “text thumb” pain in the American smartphone user checking their phones a collective 8 billion times a day and sending 109.5 texts on average a day, often tapped out with just their thumbs. A 2014 study conducted by a New York spine surgeon found that looking down at your smartphone can put up to 60 pounds of pressure on your neck. And people are also complaining of “selfie elbow” from positioning your phone at just the right angle to snap the perfect self portrait.
Younger adults were also more vulnerable to iPad neck than older adults, which the study mused could come from students often working on tablets while sitting cross-legged on the floor, or placing them on their laps while riding buses or trains, which leans toward less ideal postures.
UNLV physical therapy professor Szu-Ping Lee, the lead author of the study, wrote that the results concerned him, especially considering more than half of U.S. adults (53%) owned a tablet at the beginning of 2018, the Pew Research Center reported. Apple sold 9.1 million iPads in the first quarter of 2018, up from 8.9 million last year, making $4.1 billion in the process. But even as tablet sales have slowed somewhat (global shipments came to 31.7 million for first half of the year, down from 35.8 million in 2017), millions of people are still slouching over screens.
“Such high prevalence of neck and shoulder symptoms, especially among the younger populations, presents a substantial burden to society,” he wrote. “Using these electronic devices is becoming a part of our modern lives. 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.”
But only 46% of respondents in the UNLV said they’d stop using the device if they felt discomfort. (We’ll post in Instagram and Snap through the pain.) So what can you do to prevent iPad neck, and to treat it once you start feeling those aches?
Sit with your back supported. “You want to keep your head and neck as neutral as possible,” said Dr. Abrahams, so use your tablet while seated in a chair with back support. The study researchers added that building planners should also consider installing more benches and chairs with back support, so that people sit up straight.
Use a tablet stand. The ideal way to view your tablet is with the screen upright and facing you, like the screens set into the seatback in front of you on an airplane. There are tall stands similar to microphone stands that will do this, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tablet Stand for $70. But even a small stand that just tilts the screen up at 45-degree angle eases the burden on your neck, because you don’t have to look straight down. “The lower you hold the tablet, the more you’re flexing your neck,” said Dr. Abrahams.
Take breaks. It’s easy to lose yourself in a book or movie on your tablet, but set an alarm and try to take a break every 15 minutes, such as standing up, rolling your neck and your shoulders, and stretching your arms over your head. “Even watching something for 30 to 34 minutes is safe, but if you’re sitting in the same position for two hours on your iPad, that’s going to get very uncomfortable,” said Dr. Abrahams.
Exercise to strengthen your neck, shoulder and upper back muscles. “Planks really help, because they’re strengthening the muscles around the spine and your core,” Dr. Jordan Metzl, a sports medicine physician at New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery, told Moneyish. Or do “neck tilts” by sitting up straight and then tilting your head down so your chin touches your chest, and hold this for five seconds before returning to the starting position. Repeat five times.
Use posture trainers and coaches. Check out wearable devices like the Upright Go ($79.95) and Lumo Lift ($59.99) that you wear just below our collarbone or on your upper back, or some others clip to your clothing, which beep or buzz to notify you when you’re slouching.
Treat your aches. Both doctors recommended taking anti-inflammatories like Motrin, Alleve and Advil to alleviate pain. Take a hot shower or wear a heating pad to soothe aching lower necks and shoulders, which encourages blood to rush to the area. And ice sore upper necks to reduce inflammation. Stretching can also be a great relief. “Get a partner or a friend or a professional to give your neck and shoulders a massage,” said Dr. Metzl. “Or I’m a big fan of using a foam roller to loosen the muscles around the neck and shoulders.”
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