Harvard study warns of injury through tablet use

harvard study warns of injury through tablet use neck painOf course, tablet computers can cause injuries in a variety of ways. Dropped from a great height onto someone’s head will likely have the same damaging effect as being on the receiving end of one hurled Frisbee-like across a room.

Thankfully, there are up to now no recorded cases of such incidents, though researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) are warning of other injury risks associated with tablets.

While many of us will have experienced a degree of wrist, back or neck pain at some time or other from our interaction with desktop computers, researchers are now turning their attention to ergonomic issues related to tablets such as Apple’s iPad.

In an interview with Amy Roeder on the HSPH website, the director of the school’s Occupational Biomechanics and Ergonomics Laboratory, Jack Dennerlein, said: “The beauty of tablets and other mobile devices is their flexibility. You can use them almost anywhere and in different ways. You can hold them in your lap; you can hold them in your hand. 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.”

In the study, Dennerlein and his team gave 15 people already familiar with tablets an iPad 2 and a Motorola Xoom, together with a case. The subjects, all aged under 40, were then asked to carry out a set of simulated tasks. Their various postures were analyzed using an infrared three-dimensional motion analysis system.

The researchers found that when using tablets, participants’ necks were bent more compared to when using a desktop or laptop computer, especially when the tablet was placed on the user’s lap. Understandably, such a position is going to cause extra strain on neck and shoulder muscles, which could cause short-term as well as long-term problems for the user.

Dennerlein suggests a number of things to reduce neck and shoulder strain, including changing position every 15 minutes, or at least moving your neck around to give it a break from its previously fixed position. Using a case can also help, as it enables the device to be propped up at what he describes as an ideal angle of 30 degrees.

With Apple reporting sales of more than 15 million iPads in its latest quarter—bringing total sales of the device to over 50 million—there may well be a fair few necks out there already feeling the strain. How’s yours doing?

[Image: Catalin Petolea / Shutterstock]