A massive 84 per cent of 18-24 year olds have admitted to suffering some incidence of back pain in the last 12 months, according to new research.  This is by no means just the odd tweak – the average number of working days lost to back pain is higher for this age group than any other –  1.5 days more a year than those of their parents’ generation.

A survey of 3,000 adults, from Simplyhealth, the UK’s biggest health cash plan provider, shows a nation on the point of a potential back pain epidemic fuelled by rising use of new, hand-held technology and a decline in the awareness of good posture and its role in pain prevention.  Experts are warning  that this new ‘iPosture generation’ are developing bad habits that could lead to  back pain problems in the future unless they take heed of good old-fashioned  advice to sit-up straight and look after their posture.

The results showed that almost all age groups spend as much time in front of a PC, laptop or tablet screen in total as they do asleep in bed, some even more so.  A combination of work and home screen time (excluding traditional TV) means that over 55s spent an average of 6.64 hours a day (the least) versus a massive 8.83 hours a day in front of screen time for a typical 18-24 year old.

However, key differences seem to emerge when it comes to the different generations’ use of technology.   Two thirds (67 per cent) of 18-24 year olds agree they either slouch or hunch in front of their PC or other devices at work and almost half of this age group replicate this at home (49 per cent).  Their parents on the other hand (45-54 year olds) are more than twice as likely to sit up straight at home, on a chair, with their PC or laptop in front of them.

Dr Brian Hammond, Acting Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of BackCare, the national back pain charity, said; “The vast majority of people experience back pain in the lower back.  However, this survey data shows that those in the 18-24 year old bracket are more than twice as likely to experience pain in the middle of the back, and more than three times more likely to have pain around the upper back and back of the neck. Slumping and hunching over computers and hand-held devices appears to be a contributory factor in the difference in types of back pain between the generations.   Younger people are far more likely to be hunched over a device on a sofa, and would benefit from paying close attention to the basics of good posture.”

However, being told to sit up or stand up straight seems to be on the decline too.  Nearly three-quarters (73 per cent) of those tracing their childhood years back to the 1950s and before recall being given this advice from their parents and more than half (54 per cent) remember similar admonitions from their teachers. Parents today are much less likely to tell their children to sit up and stand up straight – 59 per cent of those questioned said they never gave their children this advice.

Jean Broke-Smith, etiquette and deportment expert and former principal of the famous Lucy Clayton Finishing School said:  “Although it has been decades since people learned good posture at finishing schools, the time seems right to recognise its potential to help younger people avoid the risk of back pain associated with increasing use of hand-held devices.  Being aware you are slouching or hunching over your tablet or smartphone is half the battle.  The other half is to counter this bad habit and the potential pain it can generate by always sitting up with a straight back with your device comfortably on your lap or at a reasonable height in front of you.”

To support individuals with back pain and those wanting to prevent it Simplyhealth and BackCare have developed a free App which allows users to input data on the type and location of their back pain to generate daily tailored advice as well as details of local specialist advice and support available. There are also exercises and information available for individuals to do when at home and in the workplace to help look after their backs.

Clare Lee from Simplyhealth added: “We hope that our new App will help people find the best advice and the most effective intervention for their pain.  Every time someone downloads the App from the App store or Google PlayTM we will donate £1 to BackCare* to help them fund further research into the causes, prevention and management of back pain.”