How to take care of your child’s back

Back pain affects about 80 percent of the population and is one of the top common causes of absence from work in the UK, says the charity BackCare, organiser of Back Care Awareness Week. But it can also affect children.

Not only that, but many of the back and neck pain problems experienced by adults are due to them not looking after their backs during childhood and teenage years, claims the charity.

According to a report carried out in 2015, for which BackCare surveyed 900 secondary school pupils across the UK, two thirds of 11-16-year-olds said they had experienced back pain. One in four secondary school students were found to suffer from back pain regularly or every day, with more girls (27 percent) having back pain than boys (19 percent).

Back pain, however, is commonly thought of as an adult problem. So what causes it in children?

Heavy school bags According to the BackCare survey, carrying a school bag may be strongly linked to back pain. Half of the children taking part in the survey said their school bag often or always felt tiring or too heavy for them. Back pain was found to be 10 times more common among pupils with heavy or tiring school bags.

Sitting for long periods The survey also revealed that UK secondary pupils sit for an average of nine hours a day, including in the classroom, at meal times, while travelling, when doing homework and during their free time. Those with higher-than-average sitting times were found to have twice the risk of back pain than those who sat for less.

“Early teaching of children and young people of the importance of taking care of their backs is bound to have a positive effect on the health of their backs as adults,” says BackCare Chair Dr Brian Hammond.

“There are simple things children and young people can do, such as sitting properly and not for too long, exercising regularly, stretching and lifting correctly. They also need to know how to carry their school books and equipment in a way that does not harm their back or neck.”

Here are a few things you could do to keep your child’s back healthy, both now and as they get older:

Lighten their load Try to keep their school bag as light as possible. Look for a backpack made from a lightweight material with wide, adjustable shoulder straps. Ideally get them a backpack with a strap that goes around their hips or waist, as it may help take some of the pressure off their shoulders.

Make sure your child carries their backpack properly – it should be carried on both shoulders rather than dangling from one shoulder. Putting the heaviest items in the backpack first will also help your child feel more balanced. Also encourage them to clean out their backpack regularly, so that they aren’t always carrying items they don’t need.

Keep them active If it’s safe to do so, consider walking or cycling to school with your child rather than taking the car. Also try to schedule at least 30 minutes of activity into their day when they arrive home from school – try to make it part of your normal routine, it could be anything your child enjoys, from trampolining to kicking a ball around.

Reduce screen time It can be difficult to get children off the sofa and into the fresh air these days, as the lure of screen-based activities such as computer games and social media can be difficult for them to resist. Try to set a limit on how much time they spend sitting down in front of a screen. You could also let them earn more screen time by taking part in extra physical activities. Alternatively, encourage them to take part in activity-based screen games, such as dance or sport games.

For more tips on reducing back pain, both in children and adults, speak to your local Careway pharmacist. Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.

Back Care Awareness Week runs from October 2 – 6, 2017.