Orthopedics & Spine

Is your tablet computer a pain in the neck?


June 1, 2021

How your device might be causing you neck pain or cervical spine issues — and what you can do about it.

Did you know that your iPad or tablet computer could be the cause of your neck pain? This condition has become so prevalent that the terms “tablet neck” and “iPad neck” are being used by clinicians treating patients with these ailments. Using tablets can be even worse than using desktop computers since they’re typically held low down.

A recent study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science found that 68% of tablet computer users complained of neck ache. According to the study’s findings, neck stiffness, soreness, aches and pain were commonly related to sitting without back support, sitting with a device in the lap, and lying on the side and on the back during tablet computer use. The study found that of those who reported musculoskeletal symptoms, most were reported in the neck (85%), with 65% reporting upper back/shoulder symptoms. Being female and having a history of neck pain or back pain predisposed users to pain.

Remedies for tablet neck pain

Here are some tips to keep in mind if you experience tablet neck or other device-related musculoskeletal aches and pain.

  • Sit with a back support, so that your lumbar area can be in a neutral position. Sitting on a regular, backless chair or bench or on the floor encourages slouching and improper neck angle. A good resource to review for proper body positioning is the Occupational Health and Safety Administration Computer Workstations eTool.
  • Hold your tablet or laptop computer in a position in which you don’t have to bend your neck excessively up or down more than 45 degrees. Keeping the neck flexed forward puts more load on the upper region of the cervical spine, which can then strain the neck. Keeping the device flat on a table, desk or on your lap contributes to this risky angle. Ideally, your monitor should be positioned so that your eyes are level with the top of the screen. Raise or lower the monitor or your chair to accomplish this position.
  • Working with your head and neck turned to the side for a prolonged period loads neck muscles unevenly and increases fatigue and pain. Position your tablet directly in front of you, so your head, neck and torso face forward when viewing the screen. Monitors should not be farther than 35 degrees to the left or right. If you work primarily from printed material, place the screen slightly to the side and keep the printed material directly in front. Keep printed materials and monitors as close as possible to each other.
  • For prolonged tablet use, consider creating a standing workstation.
  • Shift your body position frequently and try to get up and move around at least every 20-30 minutes. You can set a timer or use an app as a reminder.
  • Never hold a phone with your neck. If you need to type or perform another task while talking, use a headset or the speaker function on the phone.