Everyone knows the joke about how to fix your computer fast: ask your kid, right? But the computer-related injuries those whiz kids are suffering from long hours in front of the monitor are no laughing matter.
With 65 percent of American households having at least one computer, and schools providing almost one computer for every five students, the opportunity for injuries such as neck and upper back pain, numbness in the hands, tendinitis, and carpal tunnel syndrome is greater than ever.
Children are as at-risk for these injuries as adults, said Ron Andrews, P.T., Ph.D., director of the Physical Therapy Program at the UNM Health Sciences Center.
"We think of kids as fairly indestructible," Andrews said. "It seems they are under our radar screen when thinking about overuse injuries. However, we are seeing an increasing number of children with physical injuries from computer use that are typical of those found in adults, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, and tension headaches.
"Computers (and video games) pose potential risks for overuse injuries," Andrews continued. "Computers have become a large part of children's lives, both at home and at school."
Computer-related injuries are usually caused by two common mistakes. First, sitting too long at the computer without moving around or changing position can result in repetitive motion disorders and muscle strain.
Second, incorrect ergonomics not sitting up straight, not keeping eyes level with the screen, not keeping elbows and knees at right angles, and not using the correct-size mouse can trigger various physical ailments.
Although no national statistics exist on the subject, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) reports an increasing number of cases of repetitive strain injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome (pressure and swelling of the median nerve inside the narrow tunnel in the wrist) and tendinitis (an inflammation of the tendons which occurs after repetitive motion or excessive stress) among younger Americans. Young people who sit at monitors for long periods of time also have experienced numbness, headaches, neck pain, upper back pain, and joint and muscle stiffness.
Physical therapists recommend that children using computers keep their feet flat on the floor, sit up straight, keep their eyes level with the screen and take mandatory breaks at least every 20 minutes to avoid muscle fatigue.
For younger children who may be sitting at adult-size computer workstations, physical therapists suggest that a stool or other object be placed on the floor to keep the child's knees at a 90-degree angle. In addition, physical therapists recommend the use of wrist rests, which help to keep the hands and wrists in the correct position and reduce fatigue, and glare screens to reduce reflections.
To help kids key in to healthy computing, APTA has compiled the "Top 10 Ways To Monitor Kids' Computer Health." (Please see attached page.) These practical guidelines can help parents, teachers, and child caregivers make computer use fun and safe.
Because of their extensive knowledge of the body's muscles, nerves, and bones, physical therapists are able to assess a person's potential risk for conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome. A physical therapist may detect early symptoms and develop an intervention program that includes stretching, exercise, and adjustments to the overall work environment. If you or anyone you know is experiencing symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, neck and back pain, or muscle aches and stiffness, consult a physical therapist.
The American Physical Therapy Association is a national professional association representing more than 66,000 members. Its goal is to foster advancements in physical therapy practice, research and education.
For more information about the UNM Physical Therapy Program, visit http://hsc.unm.edu/som/physther/
Contact: Lynn Melton, 272-3322