Health & Technology Computer Ergonomics — important for kids, too!

With increased computer (and video game) usage, children who spend many hours in front of the screen are prone to the same postural problems as adults. Neck, upper back, and shoulder pain used to appear in our 30s; now we’re seeing more and more kids and teens with symptoms of postural dysfunction. The cumulative affect of prolonged poor sitting posture can result in carpal tunnel symptoms, shoulder pain, neck and low back pain.

The hallmarks of poor posture are a forward jutting head, forward rolled shoulders, increased curve in the upper back, and loss of curve in the low back. The body will adapt to this position for a short period of time. However, this poor body position results in muscle imbalances. That is, certain muscles become tight while others become weak. The body eventually develops pains as its symptom to let you know it’s had enough!

Here are some tips to help your child avoid the discomfort that comes with poor posture:

• If children and adults share the same home computer work station, make certain that the workstation can be modified for each child’s use.

• Position the computer monitor so the top of the screen is at or below the child’s eye level. This can be accomplished by taking the monitor off its base or stand, or having the child sit on firm pillows to reach the desired height.

• Make sure the chair fits the child correctly. A back cushion, rolled-up towel or pillow should be placed in the small of the child’s back. This helps to maintain the normal lumbar (low back) curve.

• The chair should have arm supports which allow the elbows to rest alongside the body, as close as possible to a 90 degree angle.

• Wrists should be held in a neutral position while typing — not angled up or down. The mouse pad should be close to the keyboard so that the child does not have to reach or hold his/her arm away from the body.

• Look for a mouse pad with a soft wrist cushion support so the child’s wrist is not on a hard surface for a prolonged period of time. The carpal tunnel is a space which holds several tendons and a nerve which runs to the hand. Prolonged pressure on this area can irritate the nerve.

• The child’s knees should be positioned at an approximate 90-120 degree angle. This can be accomplished by placing the feet on a foot rest, box, or other object.

• Limit your child’s computer time and make sure he or she takes periodic breaks. No one, including parents, should sit in the same position for more than 45 minutes. Prolonged sitting is a direct cause of low back and neck pain. Take breaks! Try the postural relief position described below.

• Most importantly: Make sure your child stays active! Playing outside, sports, after school activities, etc. should all be encouraged. This is the best way to keep our joints healthy and to prevent the expansive list of conditions that can arise from sedentary behavior. Lifestyle education (staying active, eating well) is perhaps the greatest means of illness and pain prevention we can offer as our children enter their teen years and beyond.

For parents and children: Postural Relief Position This is performed as a “mini break”, 1-2 times per seated hour:

1. Sit at the edge of your chair, feet flat on the floor
2. Accentuate the curve in your low back (by letting your abdomen roll forward)
3. Stick your chest out
4. Pull your chin in
5. Pull the shoulder blades down and back
6. Keep your arms straight, extend thembehind your body and open your hands

Hold this position for 20 seconds. This exercise accentuates the complete opposite of poor posture. It acts to remind muscles what they should be doing to maintain a correct seated position.