How to avoid 'iPad neck'

If you're a slumper, straighten up!

Doctors say they're seeing a jump in patients coming in with neck and shoulder pain from spending too much time bent over their tablets and e-readers.

There is even a nickname for the problem.

They call it "iPad neck," or "tablet neck."

Emory internist Dr. Sharon Bergquist says part of the problem is how much time we're spending hunched over in an awkward posture.

"We're not just on these devices for an hour here or an hour there," Dr. Bergquist says.  "We're using these devices for an extended amount of time throughout the day."

The issue, Bergquist says, is bad posture.

When we flex our neck forward to look at our tablets, our neck is curved in a way that is the opposite of its natural position.

Hold that position long enough, and you can end up with stiffness, soreness and an aching pain in your upper back and shoulders.

"The biggest symptom that people come in with is chronic neck pain," Dr. Bergquist says.  "Every night when they go to bed, they feel there is tension and strain on their neck.  A lot of people also will develop a headache."

To find out just how common "iPad neck" is, researchers at the University of Nevada Las Vegas surveyed 412 university students, staff, faculty members and alumni, asking them about their electronic tablet usage and their complaints of neck and shoulder pain.

The found women were 2.059 times more likely to experience musculoskeletal symptoms connected to their tablet or e-reader use than men.

Problems were also more common in younger adults that middle-age and older adults.

55% of those surveyed reported mild neck and shoulder discomfort.

But, 10% said they had severe symptoms, and 15 percent had trouble sleeping because of neck and shoulder pain.

The UNLV researchers found the most painful postures were leaning over to look down at tablets, sitting without back support, sitting with the device in your lap and sitting in a chair with the tablet placed on a flat desk surface.

To lower the risk of a problem, Dr. Bergquist says, raise your device.

"You want to make sure it's at eye level, so you're not looking down," she explains.

Mobile devices just not designed for long-term use, Bergquist says. 

So, if you're going to be on online for hours, switch to a desktop computer.

And take breaks to release the tension in your neck and shoulders.

"Look up, look down, look to the side, shrug your shoulders, maybe walk for two minutes, so you're not sedentary," Dr. Bergquist says.  "Then, sit back down."

Your neck and shoulders will thank you for it.