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Reducing Risk of Head and Neck Pain from Tablet Computer Use.

Article / Review by on January 26, 2012 – 8:29 pmNo Comments

Reducing Risk of Head and Neck Pain from Tablet Computer Use

Researchers Find Placing Tablet at Angle on Table is Best Posture for Prolonged Use

Tablet user postures studiedPeople worldwide have been buying up tablet computers—small, thin devices such as Apple’s iPad–in droves, partly because of their ease of use and portability. However, little is known about the potential for tablet users to experience the same kinds of ergonomic issues that have afflicted desktop computer users for decades, such as head, neck, and wrist pain. Now, in an article published in Work: A Journal of Prevention, Assessment, and Rehabilitation, on January 15, 2012, Harvard School of Public Health researchers have begun quantifying the ways in which a person’s posture, and also the design of the tablet and its case, affect comfort—evidence that will help companies develop new ergonomic guidelines as tablets become more common in the workplace.

“The beauty of tablets and other mobile devices is their flexibility,” said lead author Jack Dennerlein, director of the Occupational Biomechanics and Ergonomics Laboratory at HSPH. “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.”

To conduct the study, Dennerlein and colleagues from HSPH, Microsoft Corporation, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, brought fifteen experienced tablet users into the lab to complete a set of simulated tasks on an Apple iPad2 and a Motorola Xoom. All of the volunteers were adults under 40. Each tablet had a proprietary case that could be adjusted to prop up the tablet at an angle. 

During the experiment, users were situated in four postures: Lap-Hand (tablet held on lap); Lap-Case (tablet placed on lap in case at its lower angle setting—15 degrees for the iPad and 45 degrees for the Xoom); Table-Case (tablet placed on table with its case at its lower angle setting); and Table-Movie (tablet placed on table in case at its higher angle setting—73 degrees for the iPad and 63 degrees for the Xoom). While users browsed the Internet, responded to email, played games, and watched a movie, their head and neck posture and gaze angle were measured using an infrared three-dimensional motion analysis system.

The researchers found that study participants’ heads and necks were in more flexed positions while using the tablets than those typical of desktop or notebook computer users. Working for long periods of time with the head slumped forward and the neck flexed can result in neck pain. Users held their heads in the most neutral positions when sitting in the Table-Movie configuration.

Dennerlein recommends that tablet users vary their postures every 15 minutes, and that they use a case that doubles as a tablet stand. These cases reduce the need to grip the device, and also allow it to be propped up at an angle that keeps the user’s head in a neutral position, minimizing neck strain.

An upcoming paper will focus on hand and wrist postures during tablet use. Dennerlein also hopes to study the ergonomics of the tablet’s touchscreen interface, which replaces the desktop computer’s keyboard and mouse.

“These devices are changing the way we interface with computers,” Dennerlein said. “Our results will be useful for updating ergonomic computing standards and guidelines.”

By Amy Roeder
Assistant Editor/Web Communications Specialist
Harvard School of Public Health 

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About Harvard Medical School (HMS)

Driving Change. Building Momentum. Making History. 

“Since 1872, Harvard Medical School has been the incubator of bold ideas—a place where extraordinary people advance education, science and health care with unrelenting passion.

Whether training tomorrow’s doctors and scientists, decoding the fundamental nature of life, advancing patient care or improving health delivery systems around the world, we are never at rest. Allied with some of the world’s best hospitals, research institutes and a University synonymous with excellence, the School’s mission remains as ambitious as it is honorable: to alleviate human suffering caused by disease.”

More at Harvard Medical School & Harvard Medical School. Generations of Leaders.

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About Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH)

Harvard School of Public Health is dedicated to advancing the public’s health through learning, discovery and communication. More than 400 faculty members are engaged in teaching and training the 1,000-plus student body in a broad spectrum of disciplines crucial to the health and well being of individuals and populations around the world. Programs and projects range from the molecular biology of AIDS vaccines to the epidemiology of cancer; from risk analysis to violence prevention; from maternal and children’s health to quality of care measurement; from health care management to international health and human rights.

More at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) & Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). History.

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About Harvard University.

Established in 1636, Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States. The University, which is based in Cambridge and Boston, Massachusetts, has an enrollment of over 20,000 degree candidates, including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. Harvard has more than 360,000 alumni around the world.

Harvard University is devoted to excellence in teaching, learning, and research, and to developing leaders in many disciplines who make a difference globally. Harvard faculty are engaged with teaching and research to push the boundaries of human knowledge. For students who are excited to investigate the biggest issues of the 21st century, Harvard offers an unparalleled student experience and a generous financial aid program, with over $160 million awarded to more than 60% of our undergraduate students. The University has twelve degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, offering a truly global education.

‘Universities nurture the hopes of the world: in solving challenges that cross borders; in unlocking and harnessing new knowledge; in building cultural and political understanding; and in modeling environments that promote dialogue and debate… The ideal and breadth of liberal education that embraces the humanities and arts as well as the social and natural sciences is at the core of Harvard’s philosophy. ’/ Drew Gilpin Faust

More About Harvard University & About Harvard University. Information.

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*  The above story is adapted from materials provided by Harvard University

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