Your Health

"Tech neck": iPads can pose physical problems for users


Courtesy of Michelle Reynolds
While both men and women can experience “tech neck,” or pain resulting from peering over devices for long stretches of time, women seem to be more likely to use their tablets in positions that don’t offer back support. The woman at right is sitting in a position that could cause discomfort ranging from irritation to serious injury.

 

Anyone who works in an office or spends more than a few minutes a day at a computer knows that “tech neck” is a real thing.

Companies spend a good deal of money annually creating ergonomic workstations to prevent problems associated with using computers and other technology. It’s a good investment, as missed work and lost productivity can cost millions of dollars per year.

These days, though, increasing numbers of people are experiencing pain and not understanding why. Even those who don’t work in an office environment or who previously have been comfortable may be experiencing an increase in pain, headaches and stiffness. While initially the pain may be minor, over time it can become severe, disrupting sleep and interfering with day-to-day activities.

Is your tablet the culprit?

Nearly half of the U.S. population is reported to have at least one tablet in the home. Because a tablet is a handheld device, just like a smartphone, people interact with them differently than they would a laptop or desktop monitor. Unlike a smartphone, most people hold their tablets in their laps or lay them flat on a table while looking down. This presents a problem: Looking down for chunks of time puts undue strain on the spine. A few minutes here or there is no big deal, but if you are using your tablet an hour at a time or more, you could be causing injury.

Women and tablet neck

While both men and women experience tech neck, it seems to be a bigger problem for women. Physiology is one reason. Another is that women appear to be more likely to use their tablets in sitting positions that don’t offer back support – for example, sitting on the floor.

For those experiencing tech neck, there is the additional problem of not seeking help or relief. Too often people will just endure the discomfort. They may not relate the pain to their tablet use, or they may simply ignore it.

Over time, what began as a minor irritation can become a serious injury that requires surgery. This is why it is so important to identify the problem and make changes to help alleviate symptoms and prevent further damage.

Solutions for tech neck

Tablets are not the only problem. Texting, video games and device-based activities have side effects that can be a major problem. The solution is surprisingly simple, however. Even if you are not currently experiencing tech neck, it’s important to develop healthy habits so that you don’t develop the condition later on.

It’s not uncommon for people to sit at their tablets for 30, 40 or more minutes at a time. If this sounds familiar, you can reduce discomfort by taking frequent breaks. Looking up from your tablet, stretching or putting it down and taking a walk are all recommended solutions.

Other ways to avoid the pain and discomfort of tech neck are to use a tablet stand and to sit with your back supported. It’s ideal for the neck and head to be in a neutral position, not hunched over or cocked to the side.

While tech neck and other tech-related physical complaints may seem like a minor side effect of an uber-connected world, it’s important to take them seriously. Taking breaks every 10 minutes is a good idea, but also consider spending less time on the tablet and more time engaged in face-to-face conversation or being active outdoors.

Exercise is another wise approach to combating tech-related neck problems. For example, strengthening your core, back and shoulders is a good way to not only take a break, but also to reduce muscle strain and fatigue.

Learning more about the anatomy of the neck and shoulder area and techniques for relaxing and caring for your posture are the topics of an upcoming workshop, “Relax Your Neck & Shoulders,” scheduled Aug. 8 at PhysioFit Physical Therapy & Wellness.

Kim Gladfelter is owner, physical therapist and Pilates instructor at PhysioFit Physical Therapy and Wellness, 1000 Fremont Ave., Los Altos. For more information, call 887-6046 or visit physiofitpt.com.

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