From the real experts at Hassenfield Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone:
Screen time is a popular topic—from how long kids should be allowed to use devices each day to what age they should be allowed their own phones, tables, or other devices. Among the potential negative effects of too much screen time are what doctors have begun to refer to as “text neck” and “text thumb.”
Just like any repetitive activity, especially among children whose bodies are still developing, these overuse strains can occur when excessive time is spent using devices and when users engage in prolonged postures that tend to be awkward or stressful on the back, neck, shoulders, and extremities.
Orthopedic specialists and pediatricians have noticed an uptick in “text neck” and “text thumb” in recent years, especially among younger tech users—up to 50% of youth report symptoms of neck and shoulder pain, and up to 42% report symptoms of hand and wrist pain.
There are some ways that you and your kids can alleviate or prevent these types of digital overuse injuries:
- Support the forearms while using a device, with an armrest, your thighs, or a table.
- Type using both thumbs, to avoid overstraining one.
- Position your device at a height to balance head, neck and upper extremity stress—if you hold it at eye level, that’s good for your neck but increases strain on your upper extremities. If you hold it in your lap, that can hurt your neck. Try to find a position in between.
- Don’t text with high velocity—this can cause thumb inflammation and pain.
- Avoid prolonged static postures by taking opportunities to move your body, head and neck, and upper extremity positions during use.
Not only can overuse of digital media cause these unique strains on growing bodies, but time spent on digital media also displaces other activities including physical activity and sleep. It’s important to help your child achieve a balance in those important areas of their health. Variety is the spice of life!
Cordelia W. Carter, MD, is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone, where she serves as director of the Pediatric Sports Medicine Center. She is a clinical associate professor in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery.