The cumulative effects of computer use – mousing, typing and sitting for long periods of time – are well-known to massage therapists. This type of repetitive stress disorder manifests as frozen shoulder, carpal tunnel syndrome and necks seemingly made of iron.

How will iPods and Kindles compare?

A team of researchers comprising computer interaction researchers, kinesiologists and ergonomic experts from Harvard University and Arizona State University (ASU) is leading the way in determining the long-term musculoskeletal effects of multi-touch devices, such as iPods and electronic book readers, on users.

“When we use our iPhone or iPad, we don’t naturally think that it might lead to a musculoskeletal disorder,” said lead researcher Kanav Kahol, an assistant professor in ASU’s Department of Biomedical Informatics, in an ASU press release. “But the fact is it could, and we don’t even know it.

“We are all part of a large experiment,” Kahol added. “Multi-touch systems might be great for usability of a device, but we just don’t know what it does to our musculoskeletal system.”

The team is also developing a tool kit that could be used by designers when they refine new multi-touch systems.

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—Karen Menehan