I am increasingly concerned about the number of children coming into clinic with back pain, headaches and poor posture, and at a younger age. A staggering 60% of school age children are reported to suffer with back pain at some point and these children are more likely to struggle with chronic pain as an adult. Some surgeons have even coined the term, “Gameboy back”!
We hear a lot of media coverage about children’s increasingly sedentary lifestyles leading to poor posture and pain; a rise in the use of computers and smart phones along with a decrease in physical activity. Of course there are other risk factors including high BMI, genetics and stress along with my own personal bug bear; the general poor quality of standardised ‘one size fits all’ furniture in schools and carrying heavy school bags.
So, as parents how can we help?
Start from the beginning
Developing good posture and strong muscles begin as a baby. We need to reduce the number of hours babies spend in car seats ( when not travelling) and other types of supportive seating and most importantly give babies lots of play time on the floor and supervised tummy time during the day to build up the strength in their back and postural muscles.
Check their seating posture
The state of most of the chairs and desks at schools would not be tolerated in the adult workplace where we haves strict regulations.
In the ideal world, chairs should be height adjustable with a slightly forward sloping seat which allows you to maintain the curve in your lower back and keep feet flat on the floor. The desk should be at a sufficient height so forearms can rest comfortably on the table. A sloping desk would be preferable (like the Victorian desks) to improve line of vision and reduce hunching over work. There should be a gap between the end of the seat and the back of the child’s knees.
Question your school if you feel your child’s posture is suffering and at least try to make changes at home. Check out your child’s seating and posture, ensure they are getting regular short breaks from sitting and maybe think about sitting on a therapy ball to watch TV rather than slumped on the sofa?
I often advise posture packs to parents – they consist of a writing slope and wedge cushion and can significantly aid posture therefore improve handwriting and concentration along with reducing pain. http://www.backinaction.co.uk/posturepack
Reduce their load
Children should not be carrying more than 10% of their body weight – so for an average 34 kg 11 year old that only equates to 3 medium sized books and a lunch box. Encourage your child to only carry the books they need- heaviest at the back and use a locker if they are able. A backpack with wide adjustable straps are best (with a waist band even better but I’m normally pushing my luck with this one!) With the pack on, check your child can stand straight without being pulled backward or tipped forward. As ‘uncool’ as it is, please use both straps!
We all know exercise helps enormously but is your child actually achieving the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a day?
I hope my first blog doesn't sound too much like a rant but I am passionate about ensuring our children get the best start in life and we can encourage this by making some simple changes. Back pain can have such a profound effect on health, well-being, behaviour, motivation and academic success.