Another gap in digital education: ergonomics

A hidden impact of children using game machines and computers, in school and and home, may be a rash of neck and back injuries from bad ergonomics and too much time at the PC.

The "oh-my-aching-back" complaint has usually been relegated to the middle-age set; that is, until recently. The kids who spend hours sitting with their computers and PlayStations have doctors and physical therapists worried about the onslaught of repetitive stress injuries in the next generation of computer users, according to News.com

"The exposure to ergonomic risk hazards for children is expected to be higher than it would be for adults because of the sheer amount of time that they're on computers at home and at school," said Ken Harwood, director of the practice department at the American Physical Therapy Association.

"So we expect to be seeing more diagnoses of repetitive stress injuries in kids in the upcoming years as these kids start to develop, but we lack the evidence that supports it," said Harwood, who's also a physical therapist and certified industrial ergonomic specialist.

Studies on the subject of repetitive stress in young children has been sorely lacking. But an Austrialian study in 2000 showed that 60 percent of students aged 10 to 17 complained of neck and back discomfort while using the PC. It takes an average of five to 10 years for people with poor computer habits to develop RSI problems

"We see so many more middle school children with neck (pain) and backaches," said Doreen Frank, a physical therapist based near Albany, N.Y. "When we evaluate them and find there's been no trauma or no new activity, it narrows down to the fact that they sit for way too long and then they're on the computer way too long," Frank said.

Schools are notorious for having a "one-size-fits-all" approach when setting up their computer work stations. Students can often be found hunched over their laptops and craning their necks while talking on the cellphone. These types of activities are only going to increase in the future and very little is being done to teach students better ergonomic habits.

"If you teach children the principles of good ergonomics for using computers when they're young, then those will become habits to protect them throughout their life," said Alan Hedge, a professor of ergonomics at Cornell University

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