To say life has changed in the last 100 years is an understatement. Today, smartphones can calculate more data in seconds than a room full of computers could crunch in a week.

But too much screen time can harm orthopedic health, especially in children.

Instead of being active, many young people are watching television or playing games on digital devices. This trend is having a harmful effect on health.

Too much screen time increases the risk of childhood obesity.

When children spend hours playing video games or watching television, they are at a higher risk of being overweight. In recent years, the rate of childhood obesity, along with pediatric type-2 diabetes, has skyrocketed. The onset of diabetes creates a number of health challenges, including high-blood-sugar levels associated with fragile bones.

Screen time interferes with sleep.

The use of laptops, tablets, and cell phones can interfere with sleep patterns. The blue light from the screens of these devices affects the pineal gland, which regulates the sleep hormone melatonin. Too much blue light makes it harder for children to go to sleep and stay asleep, and sleep is essential for bone health.

Excessive use of video games can increase the risk of orthopedic injuries.

According to the National Institutes of Health, orthopedic injuries related to gaming technology have increased.

Overuse of the hands while gaming can lead to hand and wrist pain. Sometimes, the inflammation can develop into carpal tunnel syndrome.

Gamers can experience neck pain from looking down at a hand-held device. Tech Neck or Text Neck has become a common medical diagnosis.

Elbow pain is caused by inflamed or pinched nerves from excessive bending or pressure on the joint. The pain often radiates along the inside of the arm toward the hand.

Repetitive thumb movements can cause swelling and irritation in the base joint. This condition known as De Quervain’s Tendinosis can cause pain and tenderness in the arm.

Hand-arm Vibration Syndrome is a common diagnosis for people who work with sanders, jackhammers, and other vibrating tools. Now, orthopedic providers see the symptoms of tingling, numbness, loss of sensation, and loss of finger and grip strength in young people who use vibrating game controllers.

Poor posture is also typical when using electronic devices too much. Poor posture can lead to a rounded back, headaches, reduced lung capacity, and long-term back pain.

It’s vital to be aware of these conditions. Orthopedic specialists have seen these injuries increase since the boom of personalized digital devices.

But there is another condition to keep in mind that isn’t as obvious.

An article from showed a correlation between walking and bone strength. Christiane Scheffler, an anthropologist from the University of Potsdam, noticed children’s skeletal health seemed more fragile from 2000 to 2010. A later study found a strong link between the skeletal strength of school-aged children and walking. Less walking and more sitting lead to weaker bones.

To help children stay healthy and build strong bones they will need throughout their lives, parents and guardians need to encourage children to put away the screens and head outside to walk, run, or play games.

We’re not saying all technology is bad.

On the contrary, in many ways, technology has made our lives easier. It has also helped increase medical advances. According to Harvard Health, medical applications can be used in ADHD treatments, balance training, training simulations for surgeons, and many other health-related situations. It can also help children learn and develop skills.

The key is to balance technology with other health-building and cognitive-development activities, especially if the user is still growing.

It’s best to set screen-time limits based on a child’s age.

The amount of time young people spend in front of media screens is staggering. Just look at this statistic published in Well, The New York Times Health Blog.

“In its 2013 policy statement on ‘Children, Adolescents, and the Media,’ the American Academy of Pediatrics cited these shocking statistics from a Kaiser Family Foundation study in 2010: ‘The average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly eight hours a day with a variety of different media, and older children and teenagers spend more than 11 hours per day.’”

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, too much time in front of screens can affect a child’s sleep, development, and physical health. The Academy recommends the following guidelines for screen time.

 – 0 Hours – Except for video chatting – For children younger than 2 years of age
– 1 Hour – For children 2 to 5 years of age
– 2 Hours – For children older than 5 years of age
– The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends turning off screens an hour before bedtime.

How do you know if too much screen time affecting your child?

Watch and listen.

If your child complains of pain in the neck, upper back, arms, or hands, it may be time to cut back on screen time. If your child’s discomfort continues, contact a health care provider.

Decreased external skeletal robustness due to reduced physical activity? Rietsch K, Eccard JA, Scheffler C.Am J Hum Biol. 2013 May-Jun;25(3):404-10. doi: 10.1002/ajhb.22389.PMID: 23606229
Decreased external skeletal robustness in schoolchildren–a global trend? Ten year comparison of Russian and German data. Rietsch K, Godina E, Scheffler C.PLoS One. 2013 Jul 23;8(7):e68195. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0068195. Print 2013.PMID: 23935857