Smart Phones and Tablets Impacting Youth

Texting spine

Christine Campbell, Physiotherapist

As technology advances, the number of device related injuries that I see in clinic rises, especially with children. As many of us know, the number of children and teens using mobile devices and the amount of time spent utilizing said devices is increasing dramatically. One of the issues with mobile device use is the posture that is adapted, which causes movement dysfunction and pain.

A survey recently conducted by MediaSmart in 2014 indicated that 25% of kids 9-10 years old have their own cell phone. ParticipACTION reports that children (in 2015) spent, on average, 7.5 hours/day in front of a screen.  Each year these numbers rise and the impact on our children’s health is evident.

Habitually people look down to use their mobile device, which causes a great deal of stress on the neck and upper back. Dr. Kenneth Hansraj, the chief spine surgeon at New York Spine Surgery and Rehab Medicine assessed the amount of force placed on the neck in certain positions and angles. Given the amount of pull generated by even a slight tip forward, there is no doubt that if this trend continues mobile device users will suffer long term effects.

In clinic, children are suffering from a number of postural issues, which I feel are partly related to this prolonged head down position. The muscles that are responsible for holding our head upright are at such a mechanical disadvantage in this position. These muscles therefore fatigue quicker and other compensatory muscles are used. As our kid’s bodies accommodate and compensate over time, they develop movement problems. Typically, the upper back becomes fixated in a forward flexed posture and it is difficult to extend back; the shoulders are rolled forward due to the tightness throughout the chest musculature and the head is pushed forward. This type of posture requires a significant amount of energy to complete even basic tasks. Even more of a concern is when these children become active in sport. They lack a solid foundation plus the addition of force, volume and load through sport, is a recipe for injury. Imagine a child trying to throw a baseball when they can’t rotate their upper body and extend their arm properly. Or perhaps they try swimming and the stability of their shoulder girdle is non-existent because of the poor mechanics of their forward rolled shoulder. There are many issues caused by poor posture, and many of our postural habits are becoming worse!

How do we fix our children’s future?

Bring your device to you! Prop your tablet up or bring your cell phone up higher, so that you can maintain good head position. This will decrease the force placed through your neck and upper back.

Get outside! Decrease the amount of screen time your kids have by getting them outside and away from the screens!

Sit up tall! Work on your own posture and your children’s. Imagine a string at the top of your head pulling upwards and lengthening your spine.