So the summer break is over and we have all returned back to Dubai having enjoyed holidays all over the world. For many families this means the school season has arrived with parents busily settling their children into various schools with new routines and all sorts of extracurricular activities.
We all want this to be a happy stress free time for our children, a time when we hope they are returning fit and well. But how often though do we think about the health of our child’s back at this time or any other time through the year?
With all sorts of information over the internet on this subject, I thought you may find it useful if I summarise the main facts about spinal pain in children and what we can do as parents to try our best to prevent this.
The underlying important fact is that a child’s spine is still developing and can only cope with a certain amount of stress or pressure on it before it starts to become damaged.
The US Consumer Product Safety commission found during a recent study that 75% of children in the age range of 8-12 years were complaining of back pain so unfortunately it occurs more commonly than you may think. The better news is that most causes of back pain in the younger population are benign although this sadly this doesn’t stop it from being debilitating and affecting both school attendance and participation in activities. Added to that, developing low back pain in adolescence is a major risk factor for developing low back pain as an adult.
Necks also deserve a mention at this point as they can be susceptible to damage too from simple trips or falls to sports injuries or car accidents. Additionally, now the electronic age is upon us, equal consideration must be given here to the head position while using a tablet, computer or textbook. Whilst it would be preferable to place tablets or books in a stand that can tilt towards us, the most important thing is to try and avoid leaning forward as this brings the head in front of the shoulders. Instead of looking down, teach your child to raise the phone or tablet to eye level. With so much time spent looking at mobile devices, the strain over time can cause serious damage.
Postural issues in neck and upper back can also lead to headaches. As a general rule adults should not maintain a certain posture for longer than 50 minutes after which they should have a break of at least 10 minutes to move around and rest their eyes. So children should sit for even less time and move around even more as determined by their ages.
So what else could be causing children to suffer spinal discomfort?:
There appears to be no single risk factor as was previously thought. For school age children, most cases are because of musculo skeletal overuse or trauma. Some other causes maybe scoliosis or stress fracture. In adolescents a possible cause is participation in sports especially at times of rapid growth and others factors are increasing in age, previous injury or family history and females do have a greater risk than males.
How you can help your child to have a healthy spine
Here are some tips for you to help your children develop healthy spine habits so that we not only send our children back to school safely but also help to prevent back pain from developing as they get older.
According to a recent estimate 96% of school children are carrying too much in their backpack.
Your child’s back pack should never weigh more than 15% of their body weight or be any wider than their body. Bathroom scales can be useful to check the weight and also help your child know what the correct weight for them feels like. The weight of the back pack should never cause it to hang down lower than their waist so it is important to choose the size of back pack to fit your child’s back and so it sits well between their shoulder blades and their waist. Make sure the back pack has 2 wide straps with padding to go over the shoulders and that they always use both straps, keeping the straps snug so that the bag sits right against their back. Multiple compartments help to distribute the weight more evenly and the back pack needs to be padded throughout with a strong lining to avoid getting poked in the back by the contents. Make sure all zips are closed as it makes the bag more stable. Ensure that your child is only carrying necessary items and that the heavier ones such as books are placed closest to the body. Teach your child how to pick up the back pack properly from the floor by bending their knees and using both hands to lift the pack onto their shoulders. Bags with wheels have risks associated with them as some schools have stairs which requires lifting or rolling it up.
2. The power of proper posture! Sitting at a desk
Educate your child to sit keeping their feet flat on the floor, shoulders back and their head over the top of their neck and shoulders and to try and avoid the tendency to lean too far forward. Some children slouch backwards and slide their feet under the desk, but it is best to keep the spine at the back of the chair and sit evenly on both sitting bones. Sitting in class for long periods can cause back pain, so suggest to your child that, between classes, they walk around and do some simple stretches.
Stand up straight!
Correct posture while standing for having a healthy spine is a straight back, squared shoulders, chin up, chest out and stomach in. Your child is standing well if when viewing them from the side, you can draw a straight line from their ear, through their shoulder, hip, knee to the middle of their ankle.
For young athletes, evidence suggests a 5-10 minute warm up literally warms the body and prepares the muscles for physical activity. Also conditioning programs which gradually increase the training intensity helps to reduce injury. As a rule of thumb, young athletes should not take part in more hours of sport per week than their number of age in years.
Also help your child develop a strong lower back and abdominal muscles as this will make a healthy spine, more stable and less prone to injury. Regular exercise and movement even walking can be good for back health and helps to maintain a healthy weight while Pilates and weight training can be beneficial for older children to develop their core and keep their spine upright.
4. Eating well and staying hydrated.
The right nutrients from a balanced diet gives kids the energy to tackle all their daily tasks. Drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated especially in the hot temperatures of Dubai, helps their bodies to maintain soft tissue elasticity and fluid in their joints which helps keep them mobile.
How Osteopaths can help your child
Ensure a healthy spine for your child by getting their posture and spine assessed by an Osteopath or other qualified specialist because treatment now may prevent a life time of problems later on. Osteopaths are trained to assess the spine, muscles and nervous system and they can show you why both yours and your child’s back is hurting and how to relieve it. This may include manual therapy and exercises to help stop the pain from coming back. Most pain will respond to rest and rehabilitation by a qualified practitioner as well as both identifying and preventing the risk factors.
If your child does complain of back or neck pain, numbness or weakness in his or her limbs it is always best to seek professional advice.
About Beverley Palmer
Beverley Palmer has five kids and lives in Dubai for 26 years now. She has her practice at Keith Nicholl Medical Center, villa 610B Jumeirah beach Road, Umm Suqueim Road 1 and she can be contacted for appointments on 04 3941000 . Her kids kindly helped her set up her business page: Beverley Palmer Osteopath.
You can read our interview with her here.