Chiropractors are seeing an increasing number of children with serious back pain arising from hunching over mobile electronic devices such as iPads and hand held computer games.

A survey by the British Chiropractic Association found that 73 per cent of children aged between 11 and 16 spent between one and six hours looking at a laptop, tablet or computer. The UK survey of 460 parents found that 40 per cent of children aged between 11 and 16 had back or neck pain and 15 per cent of parents said their child's back pain was as a result of screen usage.

Australian children are increasingly using tablet computers at school, then switching the devices on again at home on to play games, watch videos or catch up with their friends on social media - with worried parents seeking help from chiropractors as children complain of back pain and other posture-related problems, Middle Park Chiropractor Dr Simon Floreani said.

Many children tend to have poor posture as they hunched over small screens, getting close to mobile devices as they become absorbed in online activity.

"We are having to prescribe set periods of exercise, advice on safer ways to hold devices and advise parents to make sure that kids take a regular break away from their screens to reduce the impact of screen use on the spinal health of children and teenagers," Dr Floreani said.

"This has become a prolific issue. Like many chiropractic practices, we are seeing an increasing number of children with lower back pain and other posture-related issues resulting from these contortions of the spine and body.

"The digital world offers huge opportunities for education and entertainment for children, but that joy can quickly turn to agony if parents aren't careful about the way that children use mobile electronic devices."

Dr Floreani said that many young digital natives were learning bad postural habits as a result of extensive daily use of tablet computers and portable gaming devices – and did not adequately exercise or build the back muscles that enable people to maintain healthy upright postures.

"People tend to round their shoulders and bring their wrists together when they use a tablet computer, which makes your chest contract.

"When typing onto a keyboard on the screen of the device, they also tend to crane their neck forward. This hunched position can be even more pronounced when using phones and phone-sized gaming devices – with young children sometimes hunched over in this position for hours."

P2211684Parents could improve the posture of children using mobile devices by showing them how to sit comfortably and with good posture in a chair, with their feet on the floor and then encouraging children to place a bean bag or cushion on their legs so they can comfortably use their devices in an upright position. When typing documents on a tablet, children should also be encouraged to use a separate keyboard connected to the device, making their working position more comfortable.

"These devices are very popular and are now being used into schools around the country, so there is no point in advising people not to use them. Instead, we want to help people understand how to use them safely – and the risks to children's health if these postural issues are not addressed," Dr Floreani said.

Tips for healthy use of mobile devices

  • Show children and young people how to sit comfortably and with good posture, with two feet on the floor and back supported
  • Place a beanbag or pillow on the child's lap, so he or she can rest their arms on the beanbag and support their tablet or portable gaming device in a comfortable position, enabling them to see the device and use it without hunching forward
  • Check on your children every half hour to make sure they are sitting comfortably and well
  • Schedule breaks from screen at least every hour at home
  • Schedule screen-free exercise times, encouraging games and active play so that core strength muscles are used and strengthened
  • Use a separate, synchronized keyboard when typing on the tablet, with the screen propped up so it can be seen without craning your neck

Further information:

Queensland researchers found that the support muscles of people forced to undergo bed rest were switched off after prolonged rest, complementing evidence from a European Space Station study that showed that an absence of exercise for spinal support muscles can be as harmful as a physical injury and can trigger lower back pain.

Harvard School of Public Health researchers have found that the angle at which a device is used may lead to head and/or neck pain.


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