In general, we think that children are impervious to serious injuries, given their boundless energy and great flexibility. However, we cannot take their health for granted.
Such is the case with back health, allegedly an adults-only issue but in reality something that demands vigilance and intervention at all ages.
Sure kids bounce up quickly when they fall, but as their bodies mature they will be motivated to test their physical and athletic limits. Thus, they will become more susceptible to back injuries and putting their quality of life at risk. Therefore, parents and others (teachers, coaches, community leaders, etc.) all share an interest in promoting superior back health.
Here are some steps that you can take to help your children (ages 4-12 in particular) to prevent back injuries:
Provide children with correct footwear
Children’s back health literally starts at the bottom. Most recognized pediatric associations acknowledge that proper footwear encourages full movement and reduces the risk of back injury. This is especially true for kids involved in sports like gymnastics, basketball, and football.
Here are some easy tips to follow:
- Make sure the shoes fit!
- Shop in-person with your kids – don’t go online to make purchases.
- Avoid novelty footwear like flip-flops and high heeled shoes.
- If mass-marketed footwear does not work for your kids, consider special orthotics.
Once you outfit your children with the right footwear, don’t forget to teach them how to put them on. In particular, have them lace up while sitting on a chair with knees raised at a ninety degree angle. This will prevent overarching of the back, discourage stiffness and encourage proper posture. Strapless and Velcro-fastened footwear is less complicated but demand care.
At the same time, many experts encourage young children to walk in bare feet whenever possible. By having direct contact with smooth and uneven surfaces, young feet will develop strong muscles and ligaments, so critical for overall balance.
Speak with your physiotherapist if you have any concerns. We can help.
Be wary of heavy back packs
Increasingly, a “silent” and seemingly innocent childhood activity is drawing more attention as a cause of major back problems: carrying heavy school backpacks. Paediatricians cite backpacks that exceed 15% of body weight as a reason for increased back strain and other overuse injuries (neck, shoulders). The average 10 year-old weighs 31kg, so her/his total backpack should weigh no more than 4.5kg.
At the same time, improper use of backpacks (e.g. slinging it over the same shoulder all the time) can cause injury even when the weight is reasonable. Therefore, parents should encourage good carrying habits and other common sense tips:
- Choose a quality canvas backpack with wide padded straps, back support, individual compartments, and weight redistribution features like wheels, hip straps and waist belts.
- Show your kids the best way to distribute books and supplies in the backpack.
- Consider using a separate bag for the child’s laptop or other heavier electronic items.
- Teach them to be prudent with what to bring home from school, and what to take back.
- Develop good lifting (e.g. use leg muscles) and walking habits with weight.
- Child should not lean forward when walking; if this is necessary, the backpack is too heavy.
- Proactively ask your child about back pain.
Thankfully, with the advent of laptops, digital tablets and other consumer electronics, the need for carrying heavy hardcover books between home and school is decreasing. But these themselves can add considerable weight.
Encourage back-friendly posture
It’s important for kids to develop good posture habits while walking, sitting, running and taking part in any physical activity. Simply “standing up straight” is a good start, but consider offering your children an array of balance and flexibility exercises that are fun and easy to perform. We can design a program of body weight activities, as well as ideas that require small, inexpensive equipment. This can be vital for young athletes who put above average pressure on back muscles and their spines on a regular basis.
To avoid unnecessary surprises, consider a thorough spinal check for your child on an annual or biennial basis. A qualified physiotherapist can assess posture and general joint movement from head to toe. This is a safe way to identify any back problems and a first step to avoiding headaches, weak abdominal muscles and spinal curvature (rounded back).
Parent involvement with children’s lives is the best way to prevent serious back injuries. The world can be a rough place, so providing them with the best equipment and knowledge is their best defence. Use all the tools at your disposal, and be aware of any changes in your kid’s walk (i.e. gait) and overall physical performance. Speak with us, your local physiotherapist if you have any questions.
“Living a healthy lifestyle will only deprive you of poor health, lethargy, and fat.”
~ Jill Johnson