Physiotherapist Joe Shotbolt advises on how your children can stay physically fit and healthy while using their devices, plus how to avoid potential problems
Technology can affect your child’s health, with pain in the neck, lower back and hand the ‘tech trio’ of problems that are caused or exacerbated by excessive use of devices. And they’re more common than you might think – one in six youngsters experience discomfort in their hands from using technology, while a smaller number report discomfort in their wrists, arms, shoulders and neck.
Here are four simple ways your child can make sure they don’t end up with aches and pains caused by prolonged tech use:
- When using your phone or tablet, try to hold it high enough that you don’t need to flex your neck too much as you look down to view the screen.
- Keep your hands close to your body. It’s hard to believe that the weight of a phone matters, but the load is significantly increased if your arm is outstretched and it will put strain on your neck and shoulder muscles.
- Use both hands when typing and keep messages short. Using abbreviations and predictive text reduces the repetitive motion of tapping out letters.
- Try to make sure that you take a break: put your device down between messages or different levels in a game.
The ideal position
Nearly all of us fall into bad habits.
Slouchers tend to lean backwards, sliding their hips forwards, putting the lower back out of contact with the chair, causing lower back and neck pain.
Leaners rest their forearms on the desk, putting pressure on the shoulders, bending the spine out of shape, causing neck and lower back pain.
But there are ways to minimise the risk of injury.
The ideal position to adopt is with your feet touching the floor, your bottom and lower back touching the chair, and your forearms gently touching the table.
Also, make sure the screen is at head height. This should be easy to adjust with a desktop computer, but more difficult with a laptop. Using an external keyboard and mouse will allow you to raise the screen.
These are easy if you’re at a table or desk. If you’re using a laptop on the sofa and you’ve got one eye on the television, you’re going to find it a bit harder. Sofas, by design, tend to make you slump, so you’ll need some pillows to support your back and a pillow for the laptop to raise it up.
Exercises to help with hand and wrist pain
Put your elbow on a table, with your arm upright and wrist straight. Slowly bend your wrist forward and hold it at 90 degrees for five seconds. Straighten, then bend it backwards and hold for another five seconds. Do three sets of 10.
Hold a rubber ball in your hand and squeeze it for five seconds. Then switch hands. Do three sets of 10.
Exercises for better posture
Chin to chest
Drop your head so your chin rests on your chest. Gently tense your neck muscles and hold for five seconds. Lift it back to a neutral, upright position and repeat. Do five sets.
Tilt your head towards your shoulder, with your head facing straight ahead. Gently tense your neck muscles and hold for five seconds. Slowly lift your head back to the middle and repeat on the opposite side. Do five times on each side.
Flex your neck
Turn your head 45 degrees to the side. Gently tense your neck muscles and hold for five seconds. Return to looking straight ahead, then repeat on the other side. Do five times on each side.