School is out for summer! Many children will immediately transition into summer activities or vacations. Or they will take much-deserved breaks from their overscheduled lives. And as is often the case with modern kids with downtime, screens likely will play a large role in their time away from school.
Patients as young as six-years-old are complaining about neck pain. Usually, it’s because they hunch over, neck strained, looking down at their cellphone, tablet, or computer keyboard. Of course, it’s not just children who have this problem. Anyone that spends time looking at a screen sits or stands in an unnatural position, causing constant stress on the back and shoulders or “tech neck.”
While back and neck pain is common, at least 70% of adults report issues that tie back to the use of electronic devices. Your body adapts to the stresses and strains that you put on it. Holding specific positions for longer than 20 minutes can cause that area to lose flexibility. Prolonged periods of hunching over our screens are slowly causing our necks to “get stuck” in a more forward position because those strained tissues lose their pliability.
Stop reading right now and take note of the position your neck is in. Now think about how long you usually look at a screen.
With correct posture the head weighs 10 to 12 pounds, but when you lean over, the head becomes a 40-pound boulder straining your body. This can cause a lot of pain and dysfunction such as headaches and lack of sleep. Over long periods of time, tech neck can lead to muscle strain, disc injury, nerve impingement, and arthritic changes. On the other hand, studies show that proper posture decreases stress and increases testosterone, feelings of power, and comfort with risk-taking.
The good news is that in many cases, you can reverse the effects of tech neck. Here are some tips:
- Take mini-breaks every 15 minutes or so, spending 30 seconds resting your eyes and stretching in place.
- Every hour, take a longer break by getting up for a quick walk or spending a few minutes on a different task to break things up.
- Incorporate exercises into your daily routine with the goal of strengthening the muscles around your neck and back.
- Sit properly or change to a chair that will help your posture. Keeping the back of your head flush against a headrest will ensure that you’re not looking down with your neck flexed forward.
If you’re experiencing pain in your neck, numbness or tingling in the arms, or frequent headaches, there may be a more serious issue. Act quickly to correct your posture and consult with a doctor about managing your pain. There are physical therapy programs, over-the-counter medications, or steroid injections that can help you find comfort.
With children, movement is crucial, so do your best to limit screen time. A child who spends three to five hours a day on a phone or tablet is spending 1,500 hours a year straining their spine. By their 20s, that child could spend their summers trying to manage chronic neck pain.