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RSI in Children

Repetitive Stress Injuries (RSIs) were once the worry only of athletes. With the emergence and proliferation of technology, however, almost everyone runs the risk of enduring an RSI. Increasingly, this includes the younger generation. Children, especially teens, are at even greater risk of suffering from RSI’s, because their bodies are under the added stress of growth, which puts additional tension on muscles and tendons. Furthermore, children’s injuries are more likely to be dismissed as “growing pains” and, left unresolved, might become permanent.

Like adults, children may develop tendonitis, bursitis, or even Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. All of these conditions can cause pain and swelling of the joint and may result in temporary or long-term restriction of motion. Teens are at added risk because they tend to develop injuries at growth plates, where the bones regenerate and get longer. Children develop RSI’s due to two main types of behavior:

  • Overuse of technology, including computers, video games, and mobile devices

    Extended time using the keyboard can lead to tendonitis, bursitis, or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. It is important that children learn proper posture for typing. This means that wrists and lower arms should make a 90-degree angle with the upper arm. Feet should rest flat on the floor, with the assistance of a footrest if necessary.

    Computers themselves are designed for adult bodies, so their very size can contribute to children’s injuries. Children must look up because monitors are so high, and keyboards are often not within a child’s easy reach. The solution: an adjustable monitor that can be tilted forward and moving the keyboard closer to the child. An adjustable office chair with ergonomic features like proper lumbar support will support the child’s back and encourage proper posture; the top of the child’s head should be parallel to the top of the screen.

    Excessive text messaging increasingly leads to hand and wrist injuries among children and teens. In this instance, common sense should apply. Children should refrain from text messaging for extended periods of time, and should stop if it causes pain. Alternating hands or digits also removes stress from joints.

  • Carrying too much weight, especially in their backpacks

    In a recent survey conducted by the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons, 71% of doctors indicated that overloaded backpacks qualified as a “clinical problem.” Although many parents bring in their children out of worry that the child might develop scoliosis, the real risk is for neck, back, and shoulder strain.

    At most, a child should carry only fifteen to twenty percent of his or her weight in a backpack. Some doctors even recommend a more conservative ten percent. Older children can remove some of their burden by leaving unnecessary items in a locker or carrying a book or two in their arms. If students must carry heavy items, these should be placed at the bottom of the backpack.

    The structure of the backpack itself can help prevent injuries. The smaller the backpack, the less weight it will hold. Wide, padded straps help distribute weight across the shoulders, and a waist strap can shift weight to the hips. Multiple, smaller compartments keep items in place.

The explosion of technological devices and the increase in academic pressure has left today’s children all the more vulnerable to developing Repetitive Stress Injuries. Parents can prevent these injuries through diligent observation and awareness of child-friendly ergonomics.