By Angela Hendricks (Bsc Physio)
More and more pediatricians and physiotherapists are reporting that back pain in children is on the rise. The reason behind it might be the very computer you are using to read this article. Computer technology is more ingrained and important in our culture than ever before – especially for children. This leads to an increasing number of back related problems in adolescents as they spend more and more time sitting in front of their computers. Until a few years ago, these physical problems were limited to adults in the workplace.
Increased use means increased problems
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) have become one of the most problematic issues in the computerized workplace. If we do not pay attention to ergonomics, it is possible to develop chronic pain. On the occasion this type of pain subsides, other times it may be the start of ongoing problems. Small changes, such as having the right chair that encourages good posture or re-positioning the screen or keyboard can help prevent problems before they even start.
Kids are continually uncomfortable
Whereas most people who work in an uncomfortable position tend to go home and relax afterwards, it is important to remember that most children are going to play video games or surf the Internet for hours after leaving school. Oftentimes children do so without taking a much-needed break. Because of this, it cannot be a surprise that kids back pain is on the rise. Not only do many children spend time at school behind uncomfortable ‘one size fits all’ desks, but they then go home and do very little else other than sit behind a computer with their wrists and elbows in awkward positions, often accompanied by bad posture.
Is this a ticking time bomb?
Many healthcare professionals are concerned that the health of the computer generation might suffer serious consequences because of poor ergonomics. Back pain in children might only be part of the problem. One of the primary reasons that we have so few statistics about RSI in children is due to the fact that injuries to the soft tissue and the spine are hard to measure, far harder than traumatic injuries such as broken bones.
Doctors and physiotherapists admit that they see more young children with pain symptomatic of prolonged computer use. If we consider how serious these computer-related injuries are in adults, what type of effects might they have on children? Some of the concerns are:
• What about bone development in children? Children’s bones grow and calcify. Bone density reaches its peak in the late teens. We have no idea how much poor ergonomics contribute to children’s back pain in later in life, simply because this is the first generation to suffer from these problems.
• What about eyesight? We know that the child’s vision system may be damaged because of staring at a screen for hours on end. It may lead to myopia (near- and shortsightedness) at a young age.
• Will they experience chronic back pain as adults? MSD may take years to develop. Problems such as pain in the shoulders, neck and back may be a predictor of similar pain in adulthood.
While it may be difficult to mandate change in school, we can take steps to ensure that children spend less time in front of a computer screen. Moreover, it is also important to provide them with a comfortable chair that does more than just improve posture. Combining these changes with more exercise, stretching, and a more active lifestyle overall will benefit children in the long run.
While we may not be able to change the demands of the computer era, the right ergonomic kids' office chairs combined with practical ergonomic knowledge will empower our children to handle these demands more effectively.