Neck and shoulder pain in young people is a relatively new trend. When I began physiotherapy 35 years ago, seeing a patient under the age of 20 with neck problems was unusual. Disc problems in this age group were rare and mostly associated with car accidents.
However, every year at Gordon Physiotherapy Sports and Spinal we treat more and more patients under the age of 20 with significant spinal problems. This includes many school students and the injuries are commonly associated with bad posture and incorrect computer set-up. Often the neck and back pain become severe around exam time or at times of excessive work commitment.
In a survey in the Netherlands of 9000 adolescents between 15-16 years, close to half of the girls and one-third of the boys had experienced neck pain in the past few weeks. These levels were even higher when researchers looked at neck and shoulder pain in the previous 6 months.
It seems that 15 and 16 years of age is very young to be getting neck and shoulder pain, however, the survey showed a relationship between these problems and prolonged sitting, reading or using the computer.
Girls appear to report neck and shoulder pain much more than boys. Though boys participate in higher levels of physical activity than girls, they also spend more time on sedentary activities such as watching television or playing computer games. Girls tend to spend more time reading and it may be that this position (with the neck bent forwards) exacerbates problems in the neck and shoulders.
Bad posture in the adolescent age group is not restricted to reading or computer use. Observe how teens sit in cafes or in front of the television. It is easy to see why a high proportion of this age group are experiencing spinal problems.
The use of laptop computers among adolescents is now widespread, not only for study and schoolwork, but also for recreation with social media, email, blogging and games. The increased time spent using this technology corresponds to increased time the body spends in bad postures.
The survey in the Netherlands also found that young people with neck and back pain rarely seek help from a health professional. As clinicians, we observe that this age group has poor awareness of good posture and it is hard to convince them to change their slouched position. Yet this is the major contributing factor to spine pain in this age group.
Gordon Physiotherapy Sports and Spinal Advice
Good computer habits are essential for this new generation, as they will use computers from their first school years through to retirement. Good posture needs to be encouraged from an early age.
What you can do to help:
- insist that your child uses a normal computer at home and ensure that it is correctly set up
- if only a laptop is available, attach it to a bigger screen with an external keyboard and external mouse
- discourage your child from using a laptop in bed, on their lap or on the floor
- ensure that your child eats meals at a table, not on their lap in front of the TV
- ensure that your child sits correctly at a desk for all schoolwork and uses an upright chair
- ensure that your child does not do homework lying on the floor or in bed
- set a good example for your children when you use a computer
Products Stocked by Gordon Physiotherapy Sports and Spinal for Neck and Shoulder Pain
At Gordon Physiotherapy Sports and Spinal we stock the following products to help adolescents maintain good posture:
- McKenzie Lumbar Rolls
- Posture Wedges
For sleeping, we stock:
- McKenzie Neck Rolls
- Contour Pillows