When individuals use their smartphone, they often adopt an awkward posture in which their head rests forward of their shoulders. This forward head posture, or “text neck,” places added strain on the muscles in the back of the neck, shoulders, and upper back, which can lead to musculoskeletal pain. Researchers are now looking into how electronic tablet use affects posture and can elevate the risk for pain in the neck, shoulders, and upper back.
In a 2018 study, University of Nevada, Las Vegas researchers reviewed survey data from 412 university students, staff, faculty, and alumni regarding their electronic tablet use and associated musculoskeletal symptoms. The research team found that 55% of frequent tablet users reported at least moderate levels of neck and shoulder pain, which is a rate higher than the general population. Furthermore, 10% of the daily tablet users in the survey cited severe neck and/or shoulder pain associated with tablet use. However, only about half (46%) said they stopped using their device when experiencing discomfort.
The researchers added that regular tablet users, especially younger individuals without a dedicated workspace, often used their device in awkward positions, such as sitting with their legs folded on the floor or laying on their stomach or side while looking down at their device. Such postures can place excessive stress on the neck, shoulders, and upper back, leading to musculoskeletal discomfort.
The research team also found that women were over two times more likely to experience pain related to tablet use (70% vs. 30%). While this may partially be explained by women being more likely to sit on the floor with their legs crossed while using their tablet (77% vs. 23%), the researchers hypothesize that a primary driver of the disparity may be in the anatomical differences between men and women. Women often have more slender necks and less muscle mass/strength. Their shorter arms and narrower shoulders may also result in more extreme postural strain while typing on their device.
These findings concern researchers because tablets are becoming more popular for personal, school, and business use, which may place a larger burden on the healthcare system in the years to come. To reduce the risk for musculoskeletal pain associated with tablet use, experts recommend sitting in a chair with back support; placing the screen slightly below eye level; using an external keyboard; typing with the elbows bent at 90 degrees; taking mini breaks to stretch; and performing forward posture correction exercises. If you continue to experience pain associated with tablet use, consult with your doctor of chiropractic.