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3 Keys to Avoid Tech Neck for Kids During Distance Learning

Authored by Dr. Christopher Good, MD, FACS. September 21, 2020

At a time when social distancing has us homebound for the kick-off to a new school year, it puts our already technology-obsessed world spending additional time on their phones and technology devices. With this unprecedented start, many of our children are facing a new world of online learning, which, without the proper setup, can lead to physical aches and pains.

Did you know the average American already spends over 10 hours a day hunched over their cell phones and tablets? Pair that with the fact that the human head weighs roughly 12 pounds, and it’s no wonder your neck is hurting. “Tech Neck” is defined as the physical stress or strain put on your neck due to poor posture from mobile devices or other technology screen use, when not ergonomically positioned. The undue strain and stress often leads to neck pain, muscle tightness, shoulder and arm pain, headaches, and overall discomfort.

Neck pain and discomfort knows no boundaries. The new work, and learn, from home society has been taken by storm with increased levels of neck pain and damaged nerve symptoms.  What you may not realize is that the most common causes of neck pain, and even headaches, can be attributed to poor posture brought on by ‘tech neck’. We’ve all been guilty of poor posture that is dictated by the position of our technology screen – neck, shoulders, and back all slumped forward looking at a screen, or the neck tilting up or down. These poor posture habits create a significant strain on your spine and can lead to neck pain and more complicated spinal conditions if not addressed quickly.

The science is simple. 

By tilting your back, neck, and shoulders forward you are placing added stress on the musculature and joints of the spine – from the neck, all the way down to the pelvis. For example, tilting your head forward by even 15 degrees is akin to adding a 27 pound weight to your neck.

3 Simple Tips to Reduce the Risk of Tech Neck During Distance Learning:

  1. Set Screen Time Limits:

With online learning being the norm this school year, it’s growing more for your child to get a break from staring at a screen all day. One way to combat eye strain, back pain, and neck pain is to set definitive time limits for screen time before taking a quick break. If your child’s schedule allows, try to take a break once every half hour or hour for about 5-10 minutes. Have them get up and walk around, and stretch their bodies. Consider setting a timer or an alarm to remind yourself of these breaks, again depending on the class schedule. 

  1. Keep Your Devices at Eye Level:

Rather than straining your neck forward (up or down), adjust your posture, and reposition the device to eye level. Consciously think about pushing your shoulders back, and bend your elbows until the screen is eye level, to avoid tilting your neck. Additionally, pop sockets or stands work well to stabilize your device and reduce strain in your shoulders and neck from holding the device. This also is true for laptops or tablets, as we tend to rely on the height of the surface they are resting to dictate our posture. Invest in a proper laptop rise or grab a few unneeded textbooks and stack (safely) until the laptop is at eye level. By doing so, it will take a significant strain off your child’s neck during long days of online learning. 

  1. Listen to Your Body:

It’s easy to ignore a cramp or tightness in your neck when you are immersed in a YouTube video or checking one more email. Commonly neck pain can be managed and overcome in a matter of weeks, but you must pay attention to your symptoms and warning signs. If they don’t clear up with ice/heat, anti-inflammatory medication, or rest, it could be a more complicated case like arthritis, a herniated disc, or even spinal stenosis. Never underestimate or ignore your neck pain!

These non-traditional desk practices also put us at risk for developing neck, upper back, and arm discomfort. The reason this occurs is that our makeshift workspaces are not ergonomically correct. At Virginia Spine Institute, we have been treating patients with neck pain and neck conditions for nearly 30 years. With the rise of technology use, we have seen an increase in the number of patients who visit us complaining of neck pain and discomfort. The good news is that it is possible to get your neck pain in check and safely equip your kids for a healthy school year. 

If you are concerned that you or your child has developed new neck pain, or symptoms like radiating pain down the arm or numbness, contact us to discuss an evaluation. We will determine the root of this pain and find a treatment plan to get you back to pain-free quickly! 

About The Author

Dr. Christopher Good, MD, FACS

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