Is using a laptop or tablet bad for my child’s back?
Which teenager doesn’t lie on their bed for hours hunched over their laptop, tablet or phone? There’s even a word for it – iPosture – and there is increasing evidence that it is causing back and neck pain in young adults.
According to the British Chiropractic Association (BCA), its latest survey shows that 40% of those aged 16 to 24 have had back or neck pain, although it didn’t give the actual number of people included in its study. The same survey found that nearly two-thirds of this age group spent up to six hours a day on their mobile phone.
One in seven parents thought that their child’s pain was related to the use of mobile technology. This is borne out by other studies and surveys which show that prolonged poor posture can have consequences.
A questionnaire-based study from Finland involving 436 schoolchildren found that daily computer use of two hours or more increased the risk of pain in the neck and shoulders (21% of the children), pain in the head (20%) and pain in the lower back (16%). Girls were affected more than boys.
When your child hunches over, they keep their head high and flex their neck, holding that position for some time. This increases pressure on the joints, causing pain in both the neck and shoulders. So much of childhood and teenage life is bound up with mobile technology that it is hard to imagine wrestling these devices away from them.
So is there anything they can do to protect themselves?
Encourage your children to move and change their posture. Ideally, they should get up and even walk around occasionally. Studies show that the most static children get the most back pain.
The BCA advises putting laptops at a level where a child can sit with their arms resting on the desk when using the keyboard at elbow level. The top of the screen should be level with the eyebrows and the chair tilted slightly forward, so that the knees are lower than the hips. Feet should be flat on the ground.
There is some concern that supporting the forearms may protect the neck and shoulders but increase wrist pain. The most important advice is probably that using a laptop or tablet on your lap isn’t good for anyone, and tablets should also be used on tables, preferably with keyboards if typing a lot.
Children are likely to use mobile devices more rather than less. So encouraging them to fidget in this context is probably the best protection – as well as occasionally switching off the internet.