This year is the 40th anniversary of Back Care Awareness Week (October 4 – 10) and an opportunity to review our progression in understanding and managing back pain over the years. In the past, the prescribed treatment for back pain was lots of bed rest, corsets to stop movement or even to sleep on the floor! These days, in most cases the opposite is recommended so that sufferers keep as active as possible.

Although there have been major advances in 40 years, the age old saying of “prevention is better than cure” is still relevant. It is with this in mind that I want to address back pain in children and how to help prevent it happening.

Back Pain at School

It is estimated that children spend approximately 12,000 hours sitting at school. When linked with poor seating posture, it is hardly surprising that recent research has revealed that half of all school children suffer back pain at some time during their school life.

Back pain has been shown to have detrimental effects on well being, academic achievement, motivation, relationships and overall self-esteem. Research further shows that 30% of teenagers are affected by back pain and there is evidence to show that this often persists into adult life.

Children also suffer potential damage because they carry so many school books around with them in their school bags.

When they reach working age, they will have to follow strict manual handling guidelines in the workplace – but by then it may be too late. Many children carry bags weighing over 10% of their body weight, placing unnecessary stress on the growing adolescent spine and potentially predisposing them to low back pain and other problems.

Back Pain at Home

Although children spend a lot of time at school, the home situation can be just as damaging to a young growing spine.

For many children, playing computer games and watching TV are more popular activities than exercise and sport. With children leading more sedentary lives they become less fit and their muscle strength becomes unable to cope with the daily forces of life, increasing the likelihood of muscle or joint injury.

In the workplace, employers are subject to strict health and safety regulations to ensure the well being of its employees, yet we do not apply such strict guidelines on our own youngsters. Children are often allowed to spend many uninterrupted hours hunched over keyboards or game consoles, in unsuitable chairs and with inappropriate lighting, leading to poor posture and the associated problems which it can cause. Our bodies are designed for movement and not for sustaining prolonged positions, especially if they are in a poor posture.

Cost of Back Pain

Back pain accounted for around 1 in 8 of all sick notes issued in recent years and is the nation’s leading cause of disability. Department of Health statistics have estimated that back pain is costing the British industry an annual £5billion and the NHS £481 million each year. Bearing in mind the current adult back pain figures we can only guess at how high these may climb when the next generation, already unfit, become adults.

Helping to reduce the risks of back pain
We can all help ourselves to reduce the risk of back pain:

  • POSTURE – Ensure good posture whether standing, sitting or walking. Try to keep the natural curves of the spine at all times avoiding prolonged sedentary positions
  • CHAIRS – Try not to slouch when sitting, sit well back in your chair with a straight spine using the backrest and keeping your feet flat on the floor
  • REST and WRIGGLE – Take regular breaks and stretch out at least every 30 minutes
  • EXERCISE – Regular daily exercise is essential for good fitness and muscle strength ensuring that the joints are well supported and protected
  • OBESITY – Being overweight puts extra strain and risk to joints throughout the body
  • CORRECT LIFTING TECHNIQUES – bend at your hips and knees to use your large leg muscles and avoid straining the small spinal muscles
  • SCHOOL BAGS – Choose a “rucksack” type bag with 2 wide straps. Avoid overloading (maximum of 10% of body weight), clear out unused items regularly, carrying only what is necessary. Pack heavier items closer to your back, wear straps over both shoulders keeping the bag snug against your body
  • SHOES – Ensure good supportive footwear is worn and done up firmly!
  • FOOD – A healthy diet, remembering the 5 a day is essential for growing bodies
  • REST – Sleep and rest are essential for growing and healing

By following the above tips with your children you can help prevent them becoming one of the 40% of adults in the UK today who suffer back pain.