By Rhiannon Ellis

Limiting screen time is an ongoing, modern-day battle for many parents, and COVID-19 restrictions have only exacerbated that struggle. Children are stuck at home with very limited access to outside activities, leaving them inside and glued to their screens. Social distancing can be isolating. Social media, online gaming and texting provide children a portal into the world from which they’ve been so severely cut off. These connections may be important for mental and emotional well-being, but what about the physical repercussions of spending so much time in front of screens?

Ailments associated with gaming and screen time in general are due to poor posture over a sustained period of time. “We commonly see patients with increased neck and upper back pain, muscle tightness and frequent headaches,” says Dr. Craig Henzler, D.C., founder of Downtown Chiropractic & Rehabilitation. The effects are not always immediately noticeable, leaving people to continue their poor posture habits indefinitely. Over time, these symptoms can become chronic. 

In addition to pain and stiffness, other syndromes can occur. Text neck is a stress injury due to excessive texting and the hunched-over position one assumes while doing it. This is especially relevant for teens, because they spend more time on their cellphones than any other group. Children who play games on tablets are also at risk, since the neck position is similar to that of texting.

Ergonomic chairs (aka gaming chairs), PopSockets and lumbar support pillows are all popular aids that encourage proper alignment. “Anything one can do to improve their posture while seated would help reduce the cumulative postural stress associated with gaming and online learning,” Henzler says. However, he warns that these aids aren’t a perfect solution, and that movement is still essential. “I will often tell my patients that ‘your best position is your next position.’”

Unfortunately, an increase in gaming/screen-time-related ailments is expected for those children participating in remote learning this fall. “There has already been an increase in these complaints from adults who have been working from home these past few months,” Henzler says.

Husband-and-wife team and owners of Heppe Chiropractic, Drs. Erica and Scott Heppe, D.C., have seen a similar rise in their adult patients and agree that students will likely experience some of these symptoms once schooling moves to a digital format. They suggest parents keep themselves and their kids moving, as daily exercise can help neutralize some of the adverse effects of prolonged sitting. The CDC and The American Heart Association both recommend 150 minutes a week of moderate activity. Taking frequent short breaks from sitting throughout the day is strongly encouraged.

“Movement is key to staying healthy,” say the Heppes, whose website’s tagline is Keeping FXBG Active. In addition to common outdoor activities such as walking and biking, as well as finding creative ways to be active indoors, they advocate taking time to stretch. Stretching not only alleviates pain, it can also prevent injuries from occurring.

The Heppes recommend the
following movements.

For upper/lower back:

  • Cat-cow pose
  • Torso twists
  • Hip circles 

For lower back:

  • Bird-dog pose
  • Side planks
  • Partial sit-ups

For neck/upper back:

  • Rows
  • Lateral pulldowns 

The Heppes suggest loosening up muscles with heat prior to stretching for a better result. However, they stress that stretching and exercise alone are not enough. “Chiropractic, stretching and exercising can definitely help decrease the pain associated with these conditions but will never make the pain completely go away unless bad postures are fixed.”

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