Limit Kids’ ‘Screen Time’ to Avoid Back Pain

5 tips to save young gamers’ necks and backs

boy playing video game

Contributor: Hilary Coughlin, PT, Pediatric Pain Rehabilitation Program

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Do you often find your child hunched over a tablet playing video games or slouched on the floor watching TV? Poor posture is a common cause of back pain and soreness for children. In a study of back pain in 648 children and adolescents, 50 percent of children reporting back pain were found to have nonspecific musculoskeletal pain – which refers to overuse and improper use of muscles.

Kids are especially at risk in the winter when they are less active and more apt to turn to various screens – phones, tablets and TVs – for extended “screen time.” Static sitting causes children to bring their head forward in a really slouched position. This is very poor for the spine and back muscles and causes stiffness and reduced joint lubrication.

Here are tips parents can use to encourage proper posture for children:

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1. Use a timer to encourage breaks from sitting

Since losing track of time can be a major issue for some kids, small breaks are critical. I recommend setting a timer. It doesn’t mean kids have to stop playing, but they can be reminded to stand up and move around after 20 to 30 minutes of sitting.

2. Avoid sitting on unsupported surfaces

Children need to avoid spending long amounts of screen time on low-support couches, chairs and even floors, where they can end up in straining positions for far too long. Work to create a setup that supports your child’s head and neck, whether by propping pillows or having them lean back in well-supported chair.

3. Have the screen and chair properly adjusted for computer time

Set up this area so kids are seated to allow eye level or slightly below eye level viewing of the screen. Also, adjust the chair so the height allows for both feet to be firmly planted on the floor.

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4. Talk about the importance of posture

Making children take breaks from TV and video games may not be easy, but it’s important. Helping kids become self-aware about their posture can create good lifetime habits.

5. Consider a therapy ball

There are ways to work muscles and improve posture even while children are in front of their screens. Therapy balls, for example, offer a dynamic surface that makes children work their trunk muscles (pectoralis, obliques and abdominis) while they are playing video games. This helps promote proper posture.

More information

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