Tablet use:  significance of usage position and potential for neck damage

Oxford, UK, March 2015

Tablet use has rocketed. Last year in the US, for example, 42% of under 18’s owned one and more than half of 35-49 year olds used them regularly. This figure seems unlikely to decrease and yet only limited guidance is available on minimising health risks. Tablet use requires significant head and neck flexion and has implications for potential neck injury to users.   In this article in Ergonomics, the authors evaluate the head-neck biomechanics during tablet use, the implications for the neck musculature and future ergonomics recommendations.

Past research has highlighted a link between increased head and neck flexion and pain. Increased activation of neck extensor muscles leave them vulnerable to fatigue and therefore pain. It is not clear though if more risk is associated with type of computer, activity (web browsing, emailing etc.) or if differences in head mass, height and/ or neck muscle strength, often associated with gender, are pivotal.

The authors conducted a study of 33 university students who use tablets 50+% of their time. Users were tested in a variety of usage positions and whilst reading and typing for 2-5 minutes. Radiographs and external joint angle measurements were used to assess gravitational demand on the neck and biomechanical ergonomics of the head-neck system during tablet use. The authors hypothesised that tablet use would result in greater gravitational demand than a neutral posture, particularly when used on a lap or flat on a desk. They also speculate that demand will be different for reading vs. typing and finally that gravitational demand will be greater for female users.

Fascinatingly the authors discovered that tablet use increases mechanical demand on neck muscles by 3-5 times more than a neutral position. Using a tablet flat or on lap also had this effect as compared to propped up but whether subject was reading or typing had little effect on level of neck strain; head-neck demand is independent of hand position. A minimal increase in gravitational demand was seen in females but not enough to be significant. The authors conclude “ Our findings are important for developing ergonomics guidelines for tablet computer use because they provide quantitative information about the mechanical requirements of the head–neck musculature, which are directly linked to mechanisms of pain-related problems, under several tablet computer usage conditions.” They urge more research to include further variables such as extent and frequency of use and posture, all of which could be significant in inducing neck pain after tablet use.

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About Ergonomics and the CIEHF

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Ergonomics, also known as human factors, is the scientific discipline that seeks to understand and improve human interactions with products, equipment, environments and systems.  The scientific journal Ergonomics is an international multi-disciplinary refereed publication, with a 60 year tradition of disseminating high quality research.

The Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors (www.iehf.org), founded in 1949, is the professional body for researchers and practitioners in the field of ergonomics, with an international membership in excess of 1700.  Its aim is to promote the awareness, education and application of ergonomics in industry, commerce, public sector and government.

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Taylor & Francis Group partners with researchers, scholarly societies, universities and libraries worldwide to bring knowledge to life. As one of the world’s leading publishers of scholarly journals, books, ebooks and reference works our content spans all areas of Humanities, Social Sciences, Behavioral Sciences, Science, and Technology and Medicine. From our network of offices in Oxford, New York, Philadelphia, Boca Raton, Boston, Melbourne, Singapore, Beijing, Tokyo, Stockholm, New Delhi and Johannesburg, Taylor & Francis staff provide local expertise and support to our editors, societies and authors and tailored, efficient customer service to our library colleagues.

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