We live in a constantly connected world, with this generation of children and adolescents experiencing the direct impacts of this on their health and wellbeing. Their posture is being impacted by the smartphone or tablet in home, in the car, with the use of laptops and devices at school and followed by compulsory homework. This connected interaction is starting from an alarmingly early age and will continue through school years and beyond. Children can spend between 5-7 hours a day with their head and neck tilted over reading, texting as well as doing school work.

The common posture adopted is head down, shoulders hunched forward, sometimes the knees are drawn up to the chest or the body is just slumped forward in the chair. It is no wonder this poor posture leads to pain, eyes become strained and near-sightedness is becoming much more common.

The spine is a series of small joints, connected by ligaments, tendons, muscles as well as the intervertebral disc. Continuous poor posture changes the curvature of the spine, putting strain on these soft tissues and pain develops. If the neck is held at angle of just 15 degrees, the load increases approximately 3 times and if this angle increases to 30 degrees then load increases to 4 times normal and if its held at 45 degrees this load increases to a massive 5 times of normal load. If a child’s head weighs 3kg this is equivalent to 15 kg of force exerted on the soft tissue around the spine.

Research in 2017 ( Fares et al ) demonstrated that children will develop neck pain if they spend more than 70 % of their study time with their neck flexed at 20 degrees. Once adolescents develop regular pain, they are more likely to develop chronic pain, which is pain that persists for 6 months or more.

So what can be done?

Develop good habits

1. Model good posture to your children by lifting smartphone or device to eye level

2. Put phone down every 5 minutes to give eyes and spine a rest

3. Limit family phone time

4. Homework to be done at a desk, not hunched on bed

5. Be active after school

6. Watch TV together on big screen, not small screens

7. Lie on stomach, to reverse flexed posture when watching TV or prop device on cushion

8. Do these neck stretches every day

a. Chin tuck – make double chin hold in for 5 secs repeat 5 times

b. Chin tuck and side bend ear to shoulder hold for 10-15 secs repeat both sides times 3

c. Chin tuck and rotate chin to shoulder for 10-15 secs repeat both sides times 3

d. Strengthen upper back and neck. Lie on stomach, chin tuck and lift shoulders off ground, then head. Hold 5 secs and breathe repeat 5 times

Chris Teale is a physio at Smart Health Training and Services. Her interests include pregnancy and postpartum related pelvic and spinal pain. Newborns and infants with colic, reflux, irritability, poor sleep and plagiocephaly (misshapen head). Children with behavioural and learning difficulties, retained postural and primitive reflexes and auditory and sensory processing issues. Teenagers with headaches, migraines, pre and post braces, growing pains and postural imbalance.

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