There has been a plethora of articles decrying the physical impact that our growing technology addiction is having: from text neck to evidence of bony spurs growing in teenagers’ necks, researchers are increasingly concerned that the multiple hours that are being spent bent over smartphone and tablet screens are having a devastating effect on human health, and particularly on children.
Following a 2015 report that said that 8-to-12-year-olds spend an average of 4.5 hours a day bent over a screen (and teenagers spend 6.5 hours each day, not counting what is spent on homework or schoolwork) those concerns expanded, with particular attention being paid to the impact on sleep, emotional wellbeing, and posture.
Parents are noting that their teenagers’ backs are perpetually curved forward in a position known as flexion – their necks are bent down, their spines rounded forward, and when a device is in their hands the situation is exacerbated by downcast eyes, neck craned downward, and hands extended in front.
Though the body is flexible and made to adapt to different positions, being held in that position on a constant basis can cause real damage and is counter to the way that we have evolved. It will eventually lead to back and neck pain, and there is a significant concern that today’s teens will experience back issues requiring intervention at a much younger age than is currently the norm.
Want to know how much pressure teens are putting on their spines when they’re looking down at their phones? According to a recent Washington Post article, the chart below shows the additional weight based on the angle:
For every change in the angle that your head tilts forward, you put additional weight
- 0 degrees – 10-12 pounds
- 15 degrees – 27 pounds
- 30 degrees – 40 pounds
- 45 degrees – 49 pounds
- 60 degrees – 60 pounds
The obvious question that every parent should be asking themselves is whether that amount of pressure on the spine might be causing permanent damage, and what (short of taking the phone away) can be done to counter that impact?
To prevent the cervical curve from being damaged, some experts are suggesting adding a daily exercise reminiscent of the ‘tummy time’ that parents are encouraged to employ with infants. The idea is that if the kids spend some time laying on their stomach, head up and elbows supporting their body, it will offset the C-curve that their spines are constantly being subjected to and correct their postural misalignment. Importantly, the position acts to strengthen the muscles located along the sides of the spine, and also act to realign the ears back behind the shoulders (where they belong).
It shouldn’t be hard to get your teen to comply with this simple exercise for a few minutes a day, though for those who are truly spending hours staring at screens each day, the first few times they attempt it they may tire easily.
If your teen is already experiencing lower back pain, they aren’t alone, and it’s not too late to make changes. For information on how to address cervical spine pain or lower back pain, contact our spine specialist in New Jersey to make an appointment for a consultation.