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Pain in the Neck?

November 10, 2015
By Betsy Bethel - OV Parent Editor , OVParent

Just as young athletes are at risk for injury from repetitive motions, children (and adults) who use digital devices, such as smartphones, tablets and computers, also are at risk for neck pain, thumb or hand strain, and even back injury that could have lifelong consequences.

"We never used to see this in children, and now we do," said Suzanne Holsen, occupational therapist and director of the Hand Center at Wheeling Hospital, referring to patients with tendonitis of the thumb and upper neck strain associated with the use of smartphones and other handheld devices in particular.

She said repetitive stress without time off to heal leads to injury. She sees more teens and young adults than school-age children but noted the behaviors that lead to the problems start early.

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Jared Estock, a physical therapist and supervisor of the East Ohio Regional Hospital/Ohio Valley Medical Center Phsycial Therapy Center in Bridgeport, also said early use of devices is taking its toll.

"We are starting to see 20-year-olds with really bad posture dysfunction," Estock said. It's something usually seen in elderly patients and may take "years and years" of hunching over a phone to develop, but "if you start at age 6 and didn't stop until age 20," he said, then it's a possibility.

Estock added the best prevention is taking frequent breaks.

"The biggest thing parents can do is to just limit the exposure time" of children on devices. He suggested requiring breaks every hour or so.

Holsen said to help prevent injury, parents can:

encourage children to use tablets and computers at a desk or table, not lying or sitting on the floor or couch. If they do sit on the couch, however, they should use a pillow to prop the device up so their necks are not angled downward and their backs are straight.

discourage one-handed use of phones, which puts the most strain on the thumb. Children should be taught to hold the device in one hand and use the pointer finger of the other hand or a stylus to navigate and type, and they should switch hands often. Holding the device with two hands and using both thumbs is not desirable, but is better than using one hand.

teach children to lift the phone up higher so they are not looking down at such a sharp angle. She suggested they can prop their elbows on their sides or stomachs.

teach children to let them know if they are having any numbness, tingling, burning or pain in their thumbs, wrists, backs or necks. The earlier a problem is detected, the better the outcome. Resting and icing the painful area is recommended.

If rest and ice do not alleviate the pain, Holsen and Estock agreed, it's time to see a professional.



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