The researchers said the neck and shoulder pain caused by iPad neck was more prevalent among young adults, and women were twice as likely to experience musculoskeletal symptoms. Those with a history of neck and shoulder pain also found it to be exacerbated.
“Theoretically, the more hours you spend bent over an iPad, the more neck and shoulder pain you experience — but what we found is that time is not the most important risk factor,” said Szu-Ping Lee, UNLV physical therapy professor and lead researcher in a statement from the university. “Rather, it’s gender and specific postures.”
Northeastern physical therapy professor Jack Dennerlein said iPads or cellphones – really anything that makes you look down at your hands for long periods of time – can cause problems.
“The thing about tablets and phones is that unlike computers, the display and the touchscreen are combined,” Dennerlein said. “You have to look where your hands are because you’re inputting to the same screen you’re looking at.”
This causes extra work for the neck, which also strains nearby joints and the spine, Dennerlein said.
“To keep your head in that posture, your neck muscles are basically fighting gravity and making sure that your head doesn’t fall off — like one of those sleepy head drops you do when you’re tired,” he said.
You don’t have to put away your devices completely to prevent the problems. It’s about taking breaks — and maybe accessorizing, too, Dennerlein said.
“That’s the issue we have with computers, too — it’s that duration and maintaining that static posture for a long time,” he said, suggesting that people break up long sessions of scrolling.
He also recommended cases with a stand that allow you to set the device on a table, so you aren’t looking straight down for a long period of time. That relieves pressure on your neck.
And he said people should take advantage of how portable the devices are. He suggested that people try holding their devices up in front of them or in any other way that reduces the strain on their necks.
The widespread effect that devices might be having is obvious on any subway platform, where the crowds bend their necks down to look at glowing screens, oblivious to everyone around them.
Brookline chiropractor Stuart Grey has noted the problems. He told the Globe earlier this year that the number of young adult patients he sees has been steadily increasing, which he attributed to the use of phones, tablets, and laptops.
Lauren Mayhew, health and wellness coach at MIT and Emerson Hospital, also teaches a method called Essentrics, focused on improving posture. Mayhew told the Globe her class can help correct what she calls the “i-hunch” caused by devices such as iPhones and iPads.