Gone are the days when kids spend their free time playing hopscotch and catch or kicking a ball in the garden. The new generation of youngsters have become increasingly reliant on smartphones, tablets and computers for a lot of their entertainment.
The fact that kids are spending prolonged periods of time hunched over their electronic devices means that they are developing a forward head posture, which health professionals are referring to as ‘iposture syndrome’. If the head shifts in front of the shoulders, as is happening with this posture, the weight of the head increases, and the muscles of the upper back and neck need to work much harder to support it, leading to pain and muscle strain .
This is a relatively new complaint and as a result young kids are presenting with physical injuries usually seen in adults. Kids as young as 5 are developing chronic neck and back pain and early signs of spine curvature from hunching over their gadgets.
Osteopathy Australia‘s Dr Nahla Khraim has been in practice for 23 years and is seeing more and more parents bring in children for treatment.
“Over the past five years children as young as three and four are coming to clinics with postural problems or back pain. It used to be when they were teenagers,” she says. “It’s difficult not to make a connection between smartphone development and the younger age of kids coming in with postural problems.”
In children, the musculoskeletal system is still developing, and so pain related to computer usage can have serious consequences. Many kids sit in awkward positions whist using their gadgets, such as slouched on the sofa, and start to feel pain after a while. The problem is that most of them will ignore the pain and carry on playing because they would be too engrossed in their activity to stop. This will result in chronic neck and back tension, which can affect the child in many ways apart from causing pain, including sleep deprivation, headaches and poor digestion.
Melbourne-based chiropractor Dr Leigh Sheldrick says that recent Dutch studies found the damage of screen time on kids’ spines is equivalent to that caused by child labour in the 1800s – which may explain why she sees kids as young as five “stooping like a 60-year-old
Since kids are spending so much time in prolonged sitting, they are reducing the amount of general activity they are carrying out, and therefore reducing the amount of muscle strength and flexibility that physical activity allows.
What can be done about this?
- Parents should ensure that kids take regular breaks from their gadgets e.g. every 30 minutes, during which time they should be encouraged to stretch and move around. They should also limit the daily allowance of gadget usage
- Children should be taught how to adopt a better posture when using their devices e.g. laptops should NOT be kept on the lap, but on a desk or table at eye level
- The importance of outdoor activity should be emphasized and parents should engage in outdoor games with their children where possible, thus decreasing the amount of sedentary time and increasing physical activity.
Everything needs to be done in moderation and therefore, and as much as electronic devices are great things and have helped our lives in so many ways, we must prevent them from becoming a detriment to our kids’ health and well-being by finding the right balance.
Carolyn Cassano has been a physiotherapist for the past 14 years and has spent the last 10 years working in long term elderly care. She is a keen traveller as well as an avid writer and loves to keep journals of all her travels. Carolyn is married and has one daughter.