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Sedentary Activity Linked to Back Pain and Headache in Teenagers

Researchers have definitively correlated screen time to chronic back pain and headaches in teenagers.

Although the amount of time teenagers spend in front of the TV, as well as on the computer or playing video games, has long been associated with physical complaints, an international team of researchers has now definitively linked TV viewing, computer use, and computer gaming (screen time) to back pain and recurrent headaches.

Torbjørn Torsheim, from the University of Bergen, Norway, worked with an international team of researchers to examine the association between sedentary activities, such as using the computer or sitting in front of the TV, and back and head pain. Though the researchers saw little interaction between the specific kinds of screen activities and particular physical complaints, there was one exception. There was a particular association between headaches in girls and computer use and TV viewing, but not gaming.

The cross-sectional association study examined 31,022 adolescent students from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, and Greenland, as part of the Health Behavior in School-aged Children 2005/06 (HBSC) study. Self-reports of daily hours spent doing screen-based activities and levels of physical complaints were used for assessment.

The researchers suggest that the lack of a link between physical complaints and a particular type of activity may indicate that “physical complaints are not related to the type of screen-based activity, but to the duration and ergonomic aspects of such activity.”

"The consistent but relatively weak magnitude of associations is in line with the interpretation that screen time is a contributing factor, but not a primary causal factor, in headache and backache in the general population of Nordic school-aged teenagers,” Torsheim said.

Writing in the journal BMC Public Health, the researchers conclude: “The observed associations indicate that time spent on screen-based activity is a contributing factor to physical complaints among young people, and that effects accumulate across different types of screen-based activities.”