Overloaded backpacks, after-school sports and hours spent hunched over a desk are just a few reasons kids complain about back pain during the school year. In one way or another, these factors can place excess pressure on the spine, leading to muscle aches and strains in children.
“Since kids are still growing, anything that puts extra strain on their muscles and ligaments near the spine can be painful,” says Jonathan R. Stieber, MD, an orthopaedic spine surgeon at St. Luke’s and Roosevelt Hospitals.
Although you can’t be there to carry your child’s books, or remind him or her about good posture at school, you can reinforce good habits to prevent backaches and strains.
Habit 1: Strengthen and stretch before activity.
Though it’s tempting for kids to skip “boring” warm-ups, taking five minutes for bending and toe touches can make a difference, especially for activities using extreme range of motion, such as gymnastics, dancing or baseball. Good habits start early, so introduce your kids to core exercises like modified sit-ups, leg raises and plank stands, all of which can prevent back pain by strengthening the muscles that support the back. Make it fun for them – do some core strengthening exercises along with them at home.
Habit 2: Lighten the load.
To reduce the strain from heavy backpacks, help your children plan their daily routines. Encourage them to bring only what they need for class, and determine points throughout the day when they can stop at their locker to unload. When purchasing a new book bag, choose one that is made of comfortable, lightweight material that pads the back and has easily adjustable straps.
Habit 3: Sit up straight.
Although slouching and slumping may not immediately cause pain, it’s a habit that can lead to chronic back problems in the future. “Poor posture is one of those bad habits that creeps up on you later on,” Dr. Stieber says. “When kids consistently slump forward to see the computer screen or work at their desk, it can cause back problems down the road.”
At home, make sure your child’s desk and chair are fixed at an appropriate and comfortable height and remind him or her to sit up straight. Encourage your child to take plenty of breaks during activities that involve prolonged sitting. Simply standing up and stretching their arms overhead can do the trick.
Habit 4: Make healthy food and activity choices.
Kids may not realize it, but excess weight places pressure on the spine during activity and while at rest. To help them maintain a normal weight, provide your children with healthy food options and teach them how to make healthy choices in the school cafeteria. Encourage physical activity and get some exercise as a family to show them how important it is to all of you.
Habit 5: Get kicks for support, not style.
Footwear that doesn’t fit right or is uncomfortable can cause back pain within hours. Although your child might beg for what’s in style, you control the pocketbook. Make sure his or her shoes fit their foot shape and size. “Shoes that fit poorly can affect the knees, hips and back,” Dr. Stieber says. That means kids need to try the shoes on, every time, before you purchase them.
If your child complains of back pain lasting longer than two weeks, or if the pain is limiting his or her activities, make an appointment with your physician. Back pain accompanied by weakness, limping or fever should be evaluated by a physician immediately.
“Back pain in children is very different than with adults, but it can be treated just as effectively,” Dr. Stieber says.
Call 1-855-411-LWNY (5969) or visit chpnyc.org to discuss your child’s back pain with a doctor or schedule an appointment.