Back pain is a very common condition for the adult population and is not only affecting older people but younger people as well. Should health professionals and parents be working to prevent back pain in kids?
Looking at the occurrence of back pain between adults and children, there are high levels of chronic or continuous back pain in adults while kids tend to experience acute low back pain, or short-lived back pain as a result of a specific event or other conditions (cite, f.n).
Getting ahead of the back pain and other issues we develop later in life that is a result of the aging process and the environment in which we live in starts with preventing back pain in kids.
Considering the prevalence of back pain in this younger population it is easy to assume that working to prevent back pain in kids is not a high priority. But I will make the argument that just because the occurrence of back pain is low does not mean we should ignore the many additional benefits that back pain prevention programs have on kids.
There is a high value in implementing a program to get ahead of back pain in kids as they grow into adults, engage in the common culture of a sedentary lifestyle and age which all increase their risk as time goes on.
TIP #1: Make your kids help out with gardening work such as mowing the lawn to keep them activated, there can also be a small payment involved that also teaches them that effort results in rewards.
TIP #2: Equip your children with a good backpack!
Things to keep in mind
The big cultural and environmental factors that impact spinal health in adults are starting to manifest themselves in kids. According to the World Health Organization, 60-85% of people live a sedentary lifestyle around the world (WHO, f.n). (Optional: For more information on how a sedentary lifestyle such as working at a desk job impacts adults, read this article about how to deal with back pain at a desk job).
If there is one thing adults can do to prevent back pain in kids is to model and value an active lifestyle. Whether it is taking part in organized sports, walking after dinner or being outside playing – the less time sitting, watching TV, on the phone, etc. will help encourage a lifestyle of activity and may effectively prevent back pain in kids.
The Parents who are unfamiliar with exercise guidelines for their children and apprehensive about starting an exercise program should know that there are several resources around this topic that are simple to follow. The Centers for Disease Control suggests that kids get 60 minutes of activity every day (CDC).
This could be any type of physical activity such as traditional sport and exercise to walking, working outside, and playing. Multi-sport athletes and people who engage in various activities often experience greater performance in those sports and less injury because their physical capacity is higher than those who are sedentary.
Parents, doctors, and fitness professionals cannot focus on one aspect of injury prevention, it requires a full body integrative approach through activity, nutrition, lifestyle and cultural shifts to build an infrastructure that supports a healthy life from a young age.
Activities to engage and prevent back pain in kids
As mentioned above, a big part of preventing back pain in kids is encouraging an active lifestyle that exposes your kids to a variety of activities and a movement based life where they have the freedom to choose what that looks like to them.
There are kids who are not as focused on physical activity or sports than others, and that is ok. On the other hand, there are kids who are solely focused on exercise and sports with the rest falling somewhere on the spectrum between the two extremes.
Regardless of lifestyle, all kids should learn how to move their body and take care of it because that is the key to preventing and rehabilitating an injury.
Specifically, sports that are great for kids include soccer, baseball/softball, wrestling, swimming, cycling – the list goes on. There are inherent risks to all of these sports and medical history, age, physical development, and skill level should be taken into consideration.
Several forms of exercise that are also great for kids in support of preventing back pain and initiating healthy behaviors include running, weightlifting and yoga.
The key is to focus on technique and quality of movement opposed to the volume and intensity of the exercise. Regular exercise can start from 8-10 years old depending on the individual child’s ability to understand safety and take instruction from a professional.
Young people are born with the inherent skills to adapt to exercise and sports demands, as kids will preserve those natural abilities and enhance ability over time that goes further than preventing back pain alone.
Once the child has options for physical activities and the parents have an understanding of how they can be supportive of the learning of a healthy lifestyle there are some equipment considerations to make. It is important to focus on safety as children engage in an activity and parents should prepare to equip their children with the necessary gear.
Whether it be helmets, pads, or shoes – having the improper equipment or lacking equipment is an easy way to increase the risk of injury.
Outside of sports equipment, what does your kid need at home or at school to prevent back pain and promote a healthy lifestyle? There are several products, new and old that can help assist young people. In many schools across the country, students are receiving standing desks from a group called Stand Up Kids.
Stand Up Kids states that children who use their products can aid in the reduction of BMI, increasing calories burned, and preventing orthopedic degradation and dysfunction in the spine (Stand Up Kids, f.n) which are all areas that children face issues in today.
Pieces of equipment such as a stand-up desk’s in a classroom are fantastic because they implement movement into the environment in which kids spend a lot of their time. Walking from class to class, go up and down stairs, and moving during class are valuable opportunities that keep kids further away from occurrences of back pain.
If the environment is set up to make it convenient, accessible, and easy to approach the school day from a movement perspective that is a great way to enhance long-term commitment to movement as kids grow.
While stand-up desks create an active learning environment there is a word of caution around equipment that is worth mentioning. When it comes to pain prevention for the back, ankle, knee, head, etc. there will never be a device that completely eliminates risk.
In fact, wearing back braces for extended periods of time can actually increase dysfunctional movement and expose people to a greater chance of experiencing back pain. The same with any brace on any joint in the body because it eliminates the need for the body to adapt to the physical demands of life.
Equip your children with a good backpack! A key feature of a good backpack is that the shoulder straps should keep the bag up to the shoulder blades and be able to carry books close to throughout the whole back. A backpack that is extending too far from the body will make an unnecessary strain on the back and neck.
Also, make sure that your kid knows the importance of keeping the load of a backpack divided between both shoulders. This is especially important if the backpack is somewhat heavy or if your kid insists on having a one strap bag. School Backpacks for Kids with Back Problems. Here is a list i put together with some good quality backpacks.
The biggest takeaway on the topic of how to prevent back pain in kids is to get them moving and keep them moving.
The goal should be broad enough to allow for choice and opportunity and focused enough to be attainable on a daily basis. I was once told to move naturally every single day. Whether this was walking, swimming, running, cycling, jumping – anything that anybody without large equipment or special training could do safely on their own is a natural physical activity.
These types of activities integrate multiple systems in the body to encourage physical adaptation and skill development.
The other big point on this topic is that back pain prevention is physical training and physical training is both back prevention and rehabilitation following an injury. They are truly one in the same. Through safe, regular, and progressive engagement in physical activity kids and adults alike are moving further away from injury on the spectrum regardless of their history of injury.
Starting from a young age, keeping movement in mind is a powerful step that leads down a path of a healthy lifestyle.