Repetitive Stress Injuries: Kids and Electronics

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The emphasis on the dangers of excessive screen-time for kids has been steadily rising, as childhood obesity and related health problems have become more common. Type II diabetes, once referred to as “adult-onset diabetes,” is being diagnosed with alarming frequency in children; as kids spend less time engaged in physically active play and more time in front of televisions, computers and gaming systems, the risks increase. However, diabetes and blood pressure problems aren’t the only concern for sedentary kids; repetitive stress injuries like tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome are also on the rise.

Causes of Repetitive Stress Injuries (RSIs) in Kids

RSIs were similarly considered “adult” afflictions, with the vast majority of repetitive stress diagnoses in children restricted to sports-related conditions such as epicondylitis, or “tennis elbow.” Though RSIs are still most commonly diagnosed in adults, the number of kids and teens with these injuries is nonetheless rising. While overuse due to strenuous athletic practice or musical instrument rehearsal can cause repetitive stress injuries in young people, heavy video gaming, computer use and even excessive texting are also listed among the common causes. Carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and cervical radiculopathy are all conditions that can result from repetitive stress injuries; though the percentage of kids diagnosed with these conditions is still relatively small, the fact that they are increasing among youngsters at all does indicate that proper preventative measures and good usage habits should be taught from an early age.

Proper Ergonomics is Key

The most effective method of preventing repetitive stress injuries as a result of heavy computer usage is to ensure that furniture and equipment are properly adjusted to your child’s size; desks, chairs and equipment intended for use by adults are rarely ergonomically sound for kids. In order to help their children avoid developing muscle strain and soreness, and to reduce the risk of RSIs, parents should make an effort to ensure that the top of their child’s head aligns with the top of the monitor. His back should be touching the back of his chair while he’s in a seated position. Slouching or tensing his shoulders places unnecessary and potentially harmful stress on the spine, so kids should be encouraged to practice good posture. Repetitive stress injuries of the wrists and fingers related to computer use are most commonly the result of improper keyboard placement; wrist supports can help prevent some of these injuries, as can coaching on correct typing methods. The most important preventative measure, however, is for kids to take breaks every thirty minutes to stretch and walk around.

Intermittent Breaks

Video game controllers can also cause repetitive stress injuries, especially in kids that spend several hours a day using them. Taking regular breaks and avoiding prolonged periods of uninterrupted gaming are not only a vital part of preventing repetitive stress injuries, but also encouraged to boost physical activity and prevent health conditions linked to poor exercise habits and a sedentary lifestyle. Smartphones, tablets and handheld gaming devices that encourage kids to look down for long periods of time also increase the risk of neck and back pain, in addition to the repetitive use of fingers and thumbs to control the devices. Kids’ use of all electronic devices should be carefully monitored by parents in order to ensure that breaks are being taken in a timely manner and proper posture is maintained. Armed with the necessary knowledge, parents can instill good electronics-usage habits in their kids, along with healthy eating habits and other valuable life skills.

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