Handheld devices causing spinal deformities

Chiropractor Margaret Bryce has seen a concerning increase in straightened out neck curves over her 25-year career.
Chiropractor Margaret Bryce has seen a concerning increase in straightened out neck curves over her 25-year career. Photo: Danielle Street

Children as young as 10 have spinal deformities caused by prolonged use of handheld devices, according to an Auckland chiropractor.

Margaret Bryce has been practising for the past 25 years and is deeply concerned at an increase in the number of people coming to her with straightening of the neck curve, or cervical kyphosis.

"When I was first in practise I only ever saw straightened out necks in people who were academics or who had head-down type jobs like seamstresses or office workers. Now, over the years, I've seen this intense shift to straightened out necks in younger and younger people."

An example of a healthy neck curve in a 25-year-old patient (left) and the straightened neck curve of a 10-year-old ...
An example of a healthy neck curve in a 25-year-old patient (left) and the straightened neck curve of a 10-year-old patient seen by Margaret Bryce (right). 

The cervical vertebrae in the neck should have a smooth curve which arches forward.

The curve is developed among infants during "tummy time" when they are placed on their stomachs and naturally practise lifting their heads.

The curve is imperative for flexibility, shock absorption and strength of the spine.

The straightening out of this curve can interfere with the 17 trillion messages that pass through the spinal column per minute, Dr Bryce says.

The Blockhouse Bay chiropractor puts the change down to the high prevalence of handheld electronic devices such as cellphones and gaming machines.

"It used to be that head-down time was only during school time. Now, it seems to be all the time," she says.

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"I think it's quite a problem, because what that means to your health is you start interfering with those 17 trillion messages."

Dr Bryce once treated a 10-year-old who came to her because she was unable throw a ball in a straight line.

X-rays revealed the child's neck vertebrae were straightened.

"When trying to send messages from the brain to the arms and vice-versa, that co-ordination isn't there. She can't throw straight, she just can't make herself," Dr Bryce says.

"It makes me very sad."

Pain is rarely a problem for younger people but it can become an issue in later life.

Dr Bryce says parents should encourage their children to take regular breaks from electronic devices.

"They need to stop, they need to go outside and get their heads looking up rather than looking down."

She suggests setting a timer for 20 minutes and then getting the child to stand up.

"If people think their child's head is forward and the shoulders are rounded, more likely than not it's a problem in the neck curve," she says.

"If they can't get their head up they should consider seeing a chiropractor."

Fairfax NZ News