Why using a tablet could harm your health

Ergonomics experts have warned the rise in tablet computers could lead to shoulder pain because their sudden popularity has outpaced guidelines on usage.

Why using a tablet could harm your health

According to a study by US health officials, the Harvard School of Public Health, Microsoft, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the problem stems from the different postures used when browsing and working on tablets.

“Compared to typical desktop computing scenarios, the use of media tablet computers is associated with high head and neck flexion postures, and there may be more of a concern for the development of neck and shoulder discomfort,” said lead investigator Jack Dennerlein of the Department of Environmental Health.

“Our results will be useful for updating ergonomic computing standards and guidelines for tablet computers. These are urgently needed as companies and health care providers weigh options to implement wide-scale adoption of tablet computers for business operations.”

The news comes a day after Apple announced it sold 15.5 million iPads in the last three months of 2011. Although Microsoft’s involvement in the study raises questions – it is a long-time rival of tablet market leader Apple – the company has been pushing its tablet credentials with Windows 8.

Users should place the tablet higher, on a table rather than a lap, to avoid low gaze angles, and use a case that provides steeper viewing angles

According to the researchers, the data they collected suggested head and neck posture can be improved through case designs that allow for optimal viewing angles, elevating the device and avoiding lap-level use.

The study recorded posture in 15 experienced tablet users while they completed a set of simulated tasks with two tablets – an Apple iPad 2 and a Motorola Xoom. They applied a variety of angle settings using official cases, and studied posture with tablets placed in users’ hands.

The researchers found that only with a tablet placed on a table in the near-vertical “movie” position was neck posture neutral, with the head left hanging at other times, putting strain on neck muscles.

Although the good news was that tablet users were more likely to shift positions than laptop users, the researchers said manufacturers should pay attention to the operating angle of cases sold for tablets. Tablet users, on the other hand, should use tablets in higher positions, such as on a table rather than on their laps.

“Only when the tablets were used in the Table-Movie configuration, where the devices were set at their steepest case angle setting and at the greatest horizontal and vertical position, did posture approach neutral,” the study found.

“This suggests that tablet users should place the tablet higher, on a table rather than a lap, to avoid low gaze angles, and use a case that provides steeper viewing angles, although steeper angles may be detrimental for continuous input with the hands.”

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