We all worry about our kids’ health. Cold and flu, cuts and bruises are all normal parts of childhood that we stay on top of. But how often do you think about your child’s back health?
Research shows that more than half of younger Canadians experience at least one episode of low back pain by their teenage years. (I remember once in high school carrying the vacuum cleaner down the stairs and experiencing such terrible and sudden back pain that it took an hour before I could even stand up again. I wish I had listened to what I had been taught about proper lifting!) There are a number of factors that can affect children’s back health, and fortunately we know many ways we can help keep our kids’ backs in tip-top shape.
According to the Ontario Chiropractic Association, one step towards managing back pain is identifying its source. Consider these possible causes for your child’s back pain and take appropriate precautions to help them stay pain- and injury-free at home, in school and at play. (I found a happy little model to help illustrate these tips!)
1. Avoid “text neck”: Today, kids grow up spending much of their time playing video games, watching shows or learning new things on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. While we know tech has its benefits, it can also lead to neck strain, headaches and shoulder pain. The next time your child picks up one of these devices, remind them to hold the tablet or phone closer to eye level, take frequent breaks and maintain good posture. (This advice wouldn’t hurt for adults as well!)
2. Prevent backpack hunchback: Carrying a heavy, uneven load can result in muscle strain, back pain and even nerve damage. As back-to-school approaches, invest in a backpack made of a lightweight material such as vinyl or canvas to help lighten the load. To evenly distribute the weight, choose a backpack with thick, adjustable straps (remind kids to use both straps, not just one) and plenty of pockets. Also keep in mind that your kid’s backpack should weigh no more than 10 to 15 per cent of their body weight – pack only the essentials! As a kindergarten teacher I can also tell you that going with a cute and tiny little bag isn’t helpful – kids need to carry at the least a lunch kit, water bottle and communication book, and often have a library book and creations that are being sent home. Go with a backpack that will fit all those goodies while also meeting the criteria above.
3. Posture perfect: “Sit up straight!” I was feeling guilty about becoming one of those mothers who nags her daughter until I saw this tip from the Ontario Chiropractic Association. Whether kids are sitting in class or at the dinner table, always remind them to straighten up and mind their posture. Poor posture puts pressure on the lower back, decreases blood flow to the muscles and accelerates fatigue. To ensure sitting won’t cause them strain, teach kids to practice “active sitting”: keep feet flat on the ground with the back straight, shoulders squared and ears in-line with the shoulders. No more slouching! (I bet you just sat up a bit straighter, didn’t you?)
4. Warm up: Before your kids run for the field, court, pitch or rink, remind them to do a few warm up exercises and stretches to ensure their body is ready for play. A five to 10-minute warm up like a light jog literally warms up the body’s temperature and prepares the muscles for physical activity. Stretching increases flexibility and allows the joints to move through a full range of motion, reducing the risk of injury.
5. Eat well and stay hydrated. The right nutrients from a balanced diet give kids the fuel to take on any task. Staying hydrated helps their bodies maintain soft tissue elasticity and the fluid in their joints that keep them mobile.
6. Keep moving! Regular exercise can help strengthen kids’ core and back muscles, making the spine more stable and less prone to injury. As someone who isn’t “sporty”, I think it’s important to mention that even regular walking can be good for back health. In our kindergarten class, in addition to recess and gym times we take frequent movement breaks in the classroom which might include dancing or other cardio as well as stretching.
7. See a chiropractor: Chiropractors are experts on your and your child’s spine, muscles and nervous system. They can show you why your back is hurting and how to relieve it, including manual therapy and exercises to help stop your pain from coming back.
If your child does complain of back pain, numbness or weakness in his or her limbs, it’s best to seek professional advice. For more information on keeping your bones, muscles, joints and central nervous system healthy, and to find a local chiropractor if needed, visit http://www.chiropractic.on.ca.
Disclosure: This post was sponsored by the Ontario Chiropractic Association. Opinions are, as always, my own.