A backpack loaded with heavy textbooks or a portable video game – which one is more likely to cause an injury for a child headed back to school? If you think it’s a trick question, you may be right.
Most ergonomics experts agree that heavy loads carried to and from school on any child’s back can lead to potential injuries, but more and more they’re also looking at the individual components that are being carried by children, including the seemingly innocuous handheld video game.
It’s not the weight that’s a factor in the games, it’s the manner in which children play the games that causes a stir. In fact video games are seen by some groups as such a concern that in July, the American Society of Hand Therapists issued a national alert regarding the potential for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in gamers, particularly children.
According to an article in the Inland Southern California Press-Enterprise, orthopedic and rehabilitation specialists are reporting record numbers of children with hand and upper-extremity injuries, mostly the results of playing video games.
"Ten or 15 years ago, I treated maybe one or two kids per year with a cumulative trauma disorder," Dr. Prosper Benhaim, associate professor of hand surgery at the UCLA School of Medicine, told the paper. Now, he reports seeing at least two or more each month.
The heart of the problem, said orthopedic surgeon Dr. Thomas M. Mirich III, are video game controllers. "Kids have constant death grips on the them, sometimes punching two or three small buttons at once and making sharp wrist movements while guiding joysticks," Mirich told the Press-Enterprise.
Conditions including Nintendo Thumb, tennis elbow, tendonitis and bursitis in children have all been linked to video game playing. “If you see the kids using [portable] games, their necks are forward flexed, they’re not holding the game with their arms next to their body, they have awkward postures. There’s repetition and duration,” Karen Jacobson Ed.D., CPE, OTR/L, FAOTA, Clinical Professor of Occupational Therapy at Boston University, told The Ergonomics Report in a 2003 interview.
But more than just video games are contributing to the injuries found in children. Studies have also shown that approximately 80 percent of children between the ages of eight and 18 regularly use computers. Even in school, the computer workstations that the children are using may not be set up appropriately for every child. For that reason, a little education in ergonomics is an important component of back-to-school for every child. “It’s never too early [to consider ergonomics for children], Cheryl Bennett, Chair of the International Ergonomics Association’s (IEA) Ergonomics for Children and Educational Environments Technical Committee (ECEE TC) told Ergonomics Today. “They’re human beings. Think of the difference [ergonomics] has made for adults. It will help [children], too.”