Can Using a Computer Tablet Injure Your Neck?

Learn about the connection between device use and neck and shoulder pain—and get tips to prevent the discomfort.

Handsome young man with tablet in the streets of London

Updated on February 10, 2023.

You love your tablet, don't you? With a screen larger than a smartphone yet smaller than a laptop, it's the perfect tool for checking e-mail, watching a movie, or reading a book on the go. But the convenience of iPads and other tablet devices may come at a cost: These go-anywhere digital gadgets can contribute to shoulder and neck pain.

In a 2022 study published in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, researchers looked at more than 500 university students and found that 59.1 percent of the participants using electronic devices experienced neck or shoulder pain. Combined tablet and computer use was one of the main culprits. Another study, published in 2018 in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, found that 67.9 percent of tablet users experienced pain, commonly in the neck and shoulders.

So why are tablet computers causing so many issues?

The problem develops when you position the tablet flat on a table or on your lap so it forces your head and neck to be flexed at various low angles for long periods of time, according to a 2012 study published in Work: A Journal of Prevention, Assessment, and Rehabilitation

“Compared to typical desktop computing scenarios, there may be more of a concern of neck and shoulder discomfort,” said lead investigator Jack Dennerlein, of Harvard’s Department of Environmental Health.

But there’s no need to toss the tablet. In this study, conducted by researchers at Harvard’s School of Public Health, Microsoft, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, it was noted that tablet positioning and case design can be improved.

Tips for preventing neck and shoulder pain

How can you avoid “tablet shoulder”? First, position your device on a table at its highest angle to avoid looking downward. You can also purchase a specially made tablet stand to elevate the screen to eye level. Try attaching a keyboard when you need to type, as well, and make sure to use a chair with sufficient back support.

If you already have shoulder and neck pain from poor tablet ergonomics—and your healthcare provider (HCP) has confirmed that it's simple pain and not something more serious—strength training can help. Try these three exercise moves:

  • Reverse fly: Hold a light or medium weight in each hand. From a seated position and leaning forward slightly, lift your arms straight out to your sides, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Do 1 to 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps three times a week.
  • Arm rows: Hold a light or medium weight in each hand. Stand with your knees slightly bent and lean forward, keeping your back flat. (Don’t lean farther than 90 degrees.) Keep your abs tight. Bend your elbows and pull the weights upward until they are level with your waist. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you lift. Do 1 to 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps three times a week.
  • Upright rows: Stand straight, knees slightly bent, with a light or medium weight in each hand. Grip the weights with your arms hanging straight down and palms facing your thighs. Bend elbows outward and upward, lifting the weights straight up until they are at chest height (with elbows pointing outward). Avoid shrugging your shoulders as you lift. Do 1 to 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps three times a week.

And if you can’t seem to ease the pain? Check in with your HCP, who can recommend next steps.

Article sources open article sources

Altalhi I, Elsiddig A, Althobaiti M, et al. Prevalence of neck and shoulder pain among Saudi universities’ students who are using smartphones and computers. Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care. 2022;11(1):194. 
SP Lee, YT Hsu, et al. Gender and posture are significant risk factors to musculoskeletal symptoms during touchscreen tablet computer use. Journal of Physical Therapy Science. 2018 Jun; 30(6):855–861.
JG Young, D Odell, et al. Touch-Screen Tablet User Configurations and Case-Supported Tilt Affect Head and Neck Flexion Angles. Work: A Journal of Prevention, Assessment, and Rehabilitation. 2012;41(1):81-91.
Harvard School of Public Health. Jack Dennerlein. Accessed January 23, 2023. 
Frutiger M, Borotkanics RJ. Systematic review and meta‐analysis suggest strength training and workplace modifications may reduce neck pain in office workers. Pain Practice. Published online July 13, 2020. 

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