It’s no surprise that children are spending more time than ever glued to smart phones, tablets and other tech devices. What may be surprising, however, is how children – and adults – are using these devices and putting themselves at risk for a number of physical issues and injuries.
“Children and adults now spend an average of anywhere from four to six hours or more a day using computers and mobile devices,” said Jeffrey Cole, M.D., director of musculoskeletal medicine at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation (www.kessler-rehab.com). “We look down at our screens, cradle our phones between our ear and shoulder, and tend to slouch. This can lead to degeneration of the spine, as well as weakness and irritation in the muscles in the neck and shoulders, causing pain, headaches and what we now refer to as ‘tech neck.'”
Think about it: The neck and cervical spine support the head, which weighs about 10 pounds in young children and 15 pounds in older teens. For every inch a person leans forward, pressure on the neck and spine increases. The more the head is tilted forward, the greater the negative impact on the neck. Bending forward can also affect the spine and shoulders, a condition sometimes referred to as “shoulder slump,” and lead to permanent curvature of the spine. This, combined with the many hours that children and adults spend in front of their screens, increases the potential for physical injury.
In fact, recent studies1 have linked improper use and/or tech-overuse to arthritis, disk injuries, and chronic pain, as well as cardiovascular disease and neurological injuries.
“Technology … we can’t live without it, but we do need to learn how to live better and healthier with it,” says Dr. Cole.
As a new school year begins, it’s a perfect time to think about how students – as well as adults – use their computers, tablets, phones or other devices to stay connected at school, work or home.
To help minimize the risk of aches, pains and injury, Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, a national leader in the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation, offers the following top 10 tips:
- When seated at a computer, think ergonomically. Be sure the screen is near eye level, your chair provides adequate back support and the height is adjusted so your feet are flat on the floor.
- Use a document stand so you don’t look down for information.
- When working or playing games on a laptop, tablet, or smartphone keep the screen near eye level.
- Consider using a cushion or stand to keep devices elevated.
- Increase font size on your screen to avoid leaning in to read text.
- Maintain good posture to decrease stress on the spine.
- Take frequent breaks to give your eyes, hands, neck and back a rest.
- Stretch. Stand up, roll your shoulders and neck, and take a short walk to help improve blood flow and ease tired leg and back muscles.
- Exercise, yoga and Pilates can help to stretch and strengthen muscles, improve posture and ease aches and pains.
- Stay hydrated. Water and fluids help to keep nutrients flowing in the body.
And remember, if you experience recurrent or severe pain in the neck or between your shoulder blades, tingling or numbness in your hands, or frequent headaches, seek medical attention as these may be symptoms of a more serious condition.
“It’s important that everyone – regardless of age- understands the physical risks of overusing or misusing technology, and takes the necessary precautions to avoid permanent injury,” concludes Dr. Cole. “That means developing healthy tech habits – and keeping your head up.”
1 Harvard Health Letter; Spine Health
About Kessler Institute:
Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, top-ranked by U.S. News & World Report for 24 years, treats individuals with spinal cord injury, brain injury, stroke, orthopedic/musculoskeletal injuries, amputation, cancer and general rehabilitation needs at its three hospital campuses in West Orange, Saddle Brook and Chester, N.J., and more than 95 outpatient centers throughout the state. For more information, visit www.kessler-rehab.com.