Tablets and smartphones can cause people to slouch and tilt their head downward for long periods of time. Now, new findings reveal who is most at risk of developing neck strain from this habit — sometimes known as iPad neck — and why time spent using devices is not the biggest factor.

The study, published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, found that iPad neck — defined as persistent pain in the neck and upper shoulders due to excessive use of tablets — was worse in women. The study said that women are over two times more likely to be plagued by the condition. It is associated with a lack of back support while keeping the tablet on one’s lap during usage. Other postures include lying on one’s side or back.

Researchers from University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) in the US conducted a survey of 412 people about their device usage habits and neck or shoulder complaints.

The most frequently reported symptoms were stiffness, soreness, or aching pain in the neck, upper back, shoulder, arms, hands, or head.

Postures that led to pain included sitting without back support, sitting with the device in the lap, sitting in a chair with the tablet placed on a flat desk surface.

Flexing the neck forward for long periods of time puts pressure on the spine, causing neck and shoulder muscle strain and pain.

The study showed that women were 2.059 times likelier to show musculoskeletal symptoms than men.

The symptoms were experienced by around 70% women, as compared to fewer than 30% of men. Interestingly, women were also more likely to use their tablets while sitting on the floor than men.

“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. Rather, it’s gender and specific postures,” Szu-Ping Lee, a professor at UNLV.

The disparity between genders could be explained by differences in their sizes and movements. According to the researchers, women have the tendency to have lower muscle strength and smaller stature that lead to extreme postures while typing.

Researchers found that participants reported a higher prevalence of pain, likely attributed to posture and sedentary behaviour commonly observed among people in a university setting.

It was noted that students are less likely to have a dedicated work space and sit in uncomfortable postures while travelling, such as slouched cross-legged on the floor, when on their tablets.

However, only 46% of respondents claimed to stop using their device upon feeling discomfort. Surprisingly, gender proved to be a huge factor for susceptibility to the condition.

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