02/07/2023 by Dr. Goldi Jacques-Maynes
Teens: Screen Time = Back & Neck Pain
3 screens and counting: my child's digital life
One day I stumbled upon my teen using three screens at once. They were juggling a three-way video chat on their phone, a game on their Nintendo Switch with another friend, and their latest Netflix binge on the TV. I was both shocked and amazed by the digital dexterity!
Impressive in some ways, but damaging in others.
Many teen social activities have moved online, and that impacts their physical well-being. When it comes to neck and back pain, more screen time equals more pain. This “new online normal” is not good for the teenage spine.
As a chiromom, I am concerned.
Neck and back pain are very common in adults. In a general population, the 1-year incidence of neck pain can be as high as 40%. And based on the growing patient explosion in the teenage sector—it’s also becoming more common for teenagers.
Text Neck is a serious issue in teens.
Text neck is due to poor posture related to technology use. Damaging posture often looks like:
- Hunching over the phone with the chin practically resting on the chest
- Slouching over portable gaming devices
- Leaning into laptops to get school work done
It all adds up to pain—and to eventual degeneration.
Teens spend too much time in screen-related postures.
A study by Ariëns et al. found a strong link between neck pain and a lot of time spent with your neck flexed forward at least 20°. With teens spending an average of 5 to 7 hours a day bent over their smartphones, text neck is becoming an all too common problem.
Like 75% of the world's population, teens spend hours every day with their heads tilted down. This puts extra stress on their necks and spines. In fact, a high school student could be spending an extra 5000 hours in this position!
It's not just the amount of time that's the problem.
The weight put on your spine increases dramatically the more you lean forward. A neutral head weighs around 10 to 12 pounds, but when it's flexed forward, the forces on the neck can soar to over 60 pounds. No wonder our necks are aching from all that screen time.
There’s also an increased risk of developmental, medical, psychological, and social complications.
More from Ariëns et al. —
“Musculoskeletal neck pain is a common multifactorial disease in children and adolescents, implying that there are numerous risk factors contributing to its development. Bending the head, neck, and shoulders over cell phones and handheld devices, along with distorted neck positioning when sitting, studying, and watching television, can lead to incrementally increased stresses in the cervical spine area. These stresses may lead to early wear, tear, degeneration, and possibly surgeries. Other developmental, medical, psychological, and social complications are also of concern.”
The solution is to straighten-up and move in healthy ways.
The non-stop hours spent hunched over screens leads to muscle weakness, atrophy, and even painful spinal conditions that require intervention.
You can help your teens avoid the damaging effects of too much screen time by encouraging more exercise. To keep your teen's body strong and healthy, get them outside more. Get them moving and interacting with others in fun activities that don't include screens.
You can also treat and prevent teen back and neck pain at home.
Have a talk with your teen about developing some spine-healthy habits:
- Talk about how to avoid the postural habits that cause neck and back pain
- Make an effort to perform activities with a neutral spine
- Avoid neck flexion for hours each day
- Tell your kid to look at the horizon often, use a timer for reminders
- Get an external monitor so your kid isn’t hunched over the laptop all day
- Investigate devices and settings that limit screen time
Is your teen having back or neck pain? Chiropractic can help.
More and more parents are bringing their teens to see us here in Aptos. Increased device usage means an increase in teen spinal pain. If your teen is in pain, make an online appointment, so we can stop the pain today and prevent lifetime problems tomorrow. Together we can reduce poor posture and get our kids moving in healthier ways.
Are you concerned about your teenager experiencing back or neck discomfort that may not be associated with device usage? We have published a blog article discussing common teenage conditions we see in our office. Get more information about teenage neck and back pain here.