Too much computer time means backache for Irish kids

11 Aug 2010

The Chiropractic Association of Ireland (CAI) is warning parents that excessive time in front of computer and television screens could mean an increase in back pain, neck and shoulder pain and headaches for their children.

A new study published in the BMC Public Health Journal has found a link between the amounts of time adolescents spend using computers, watching television and playing computer games, and back pain and headaches. The study’s authors think that the link between back and head pain and screen time might not be related to the kind of screen activity the teens were engaged in, but to the amount of time they spent doing it and how they sat or stood while screen-engaged.

“All the research shows that teenagers are spending an increasing amount of time participating in screen-based activities, such as TV, computer games, and other types of computer-based entertainment,” explained Attracta Farrell, president of the Chiropractic Association of Ireland.

“Screen time is fine in small quantities but longer periods sitting down, hunched over in the same position for hours on end can be seriously detrimental to a person’s health. Not moving for extended periods causes the muscles in the neck, arms and back to stiffen up and become sore. On top of that, slouching increases the amount of compressive force through the spine.

“This increased force may, over a period of time, fatigue the spinal muscles and cause pain, or may lead to early degenerative changes.”

Despite the health risks associated with the overuse of computers and television, Farrell emphasised that it is not necessary for teenagers to give up their technology entirely.

“It’s all about moderation. Computers and TV can be a valuable source of entertainment and education for young people and you’re never going to convince them to give it up altogether,” she went on.

“However, it is important to make sure they understand the dangers of excessive screen time and how to avoid painful back pain. Encourage them to sit up with their shoulders back, and their feet on the floor when they’re at their PC or watching television.

“They should also have their chair pulled close enough to the computer screen so that they’re not tempted to lean forward, putting stress on the lower back. Finally, advise that they take frequent breaks to walk around and stretch. This will stop muscles getting tight and strained.

“Of course, it is also preferable that teenagers try to get outside and do some exercise, even over the winter months,” Farrell added.

“Regular exercise, whether it is by participating in a team sport or going for a quick walk, keeps body fat and high blood pressure down, and reduces the prevalence of depression and anxiety.

“It also helps prevent back pain by increasing muscle strength and endurance and improving flexibility and posture,” she said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years