Back Care Starts at School

Little boy with a backpack

Growing up can be a challenge. The constant falling over, scraping knees, and bumping into things whilst you’re finding your feet. One pain we don’t normally associate with growing up is back pain. So it may surprise you to find out that around a quarter of today’s school children suffer from bad backs.

If not identified and dealt with early on, this can turn into a chronic pain in adulthood.  To stop this happening, it is important to teach your children how to look after their backs from an early age.

Causes of Back Pain in Children

There are many factors that can cause back pain in children, which if known can be combated early to stop it troubling them when they are older.

Common causes of back pain among children include:

  • Backpacks that are too heavy, not correctly packed, or carried on one shoulder
  • Sports injuries
  • Obesity
  • Poor posture
  • Lack of exercise
  • Age (children over 12 tend to experience more back pain than younger children)
  • Gender (back pain is more common in girls than boys)

If your child is complaining of an ongoing problem, it would be wise to see a doctor. Although the likely diagnosis is soft tissue damage (such as a sprain), it could be a sign of a more serious medical condition.

Backpack Troubles

When it comes to causes of back pain in children, heavy school bags and backpacks are public enemy number one. Children carry a backpack almost every day for around 11 years which can put a lot of strain on their backs if not worn properly. If worn incorrectly, it can affect the natural ‘S’ shape of their back which leads to back pain.

The five main backpack troubles to keep an eye out for are:

  • An incorrectly packed backpack
  • A poorly fitted backpack
  • Holding a backpack by its straps in one hand
  • Carrying the bag over one shoulder
  • A backpack that is heavier than 10% of the child’s weight

To tackle these troubles find a backpack that is best for your child’s back.  One that allows you to evenly spread its weight.

The backpack should be appropriate for your child’s size and not be too big, otherwise this could cause them to lead forward placing strain on the back.  Look for lightweight materials to help reduce weight, and for a padded back and two padded, wide adjustable shoulder straps.  If the bag is particularly heavy when loaded with books, lunch, laptops etc. it might be worth purchasing a separate bag for heavier items to help spread the load.

Whilst you can help with finding the right backpack for your child, it’s important to teach them how to load and wear their backpack properly:

  • Adjust the shoulder straps so that the backpack fits snugly.  The bottom of the backpack should be 2 inches above the waist and the top just below the base of the skull.  It should not be worn low near the buttocks.
  • They should always use both shoulder straps to wear it evenly on the back rather than slung over over shoulder
  • Heaviest objects should be placed in the backpack first so they’re carried lower and closest to the body
  • Use the different compartments to evenly distribute the load and to stop contents shifting around uncomfortably
  • Make sure that sharp or bulky objects are packed so that they do not come into contact with the back
  • Backpacks should be lifted by using the leg muscles and keeping it close to the body.  Avoid bending over with extended arms.
  • Walk tall and upright, not leaning forward, when wearing the backpack.  If this is necessary it’s a strong indication that your child is carrying too much weight in the backpack.
  • Carry only what is necessary in the backpack, and encourage them to leave what they don’t need at home.
  • Clean out the backpack once a week to reduce weight by removing items they no longer need for the week ahead.

Problematic Posture

It is a well-documented fact that children and teenagers do not have the best posture. But slouching from an early age is a major cause of back pain in children as it affects the natural curvature of the spine. It is just as important to teach children why slouching is bad for their back, and how to adopt a healthier problem free posture. Particularly when sitting through long lessons, homework sessions or exams.

Sitting correctly and setting up their own work space to encourage good posture contribute towards a healthy spine and lowered risk of back pain.

Whilst one of the best ways to ensure your child has a good posture is to keep them active. Weight can be a major factor in bad posture, and exercise will help combat child obesity. If your child is running around and having fun, chances are they won’t be complaining of a bad back.

Children pick up knocks and scrapes all the time, so it can be easy to dismiss back pain as another one to add to the list. It is important to know why your child is suffering from back pain, and how to stop it happening again. This will reduce the risk of it becoming a chronic problem for your child in later life.

For more information on taking control of back pain please feel free to call Active Health Clinics on 01628 626565 for advice or to organise an appointment.