Tablet Use Could Negatively Affect Head and Neck Posture

Compared with using desktop computers and laptops, using a computer tablet, such as the Apple iPad, greatly changes the viewing angle at which a user interacts with the computer. This could have potentially negative effects on the viewer’s head and neck posture, causing discomfort and pain.

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, Microsoft Corporation and Brigham and Women’s Hospital wanted to more accurately determine how head and neck postures vary at different viewing angles, according to a press release. They asked 15 experienced tablet users to complete simple tasks such as checking email, browsing the Internet, playing games and watching movies on a tablet. Each participant used the tablet in one of four configurations: on the lap held with the user’s hands, on the lap and in a case set at a low angle, on a table and in a case set at a low angle and on a table in a case set at a high angle.

Head and neck postures and gaze angles were measured using an infrared three-dimensional motion analysis system. The researchers found that the head and neck flexion varied greatly between the different configurations, and flexion angles were greater when compared with angles reported for desktop or notebook computing. Only when the tablets were set on a table in a case at the steepest angle did the user’s posture approach normal.

The results suggest that tablet users should place tablets on a higher surface in a high-angle case. Although this makes using the touchscreen more difficult, it will help the user to avoid neck and shoulder discomfort.

“Our results will be useful for updating ergonomic computing standards and guidelines for tablet computers,” Jack T. Dennerlein, PhD, the lead researcher, stated in the release. “These are urgently needed as companies and health care providers weigh options to implement wide-scale adoption of tablet computers for business operations.”

The study was published in Work: A Journal of Prevention, Assessment and Rehabilitation.
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