Back to school – helping your child avoid back and neck problems

A raft of text books, a sports kit, perhaps a musical instrument too, then lunch, drinks and snacks – our children often have a lot of weight to carry around each day of their school lives. It’s no wonder some complain of back pain or suffer poor posture.

If your child carries a backpack, make sure they have one that fits well and that they know how to carry it correctly. Backpacks can cause back problems in children when they are too big or too heavy, or are packed or carried improperly. Unsuitable backpacks can cause children to lean too far forward or backward to compensate for an awkward load. Problems associated with carrying backpacks incorrectly include inflammation of growth cartilage, posture problems and strained neck and spine muscles. In addition, the straps can dig into the skin, muscles, and even nerve tissue in the shoulders causing discomfort and injury.

Fortunately there are a number of really simple ways you can help your child or teenager prevent back problems as they return to school, college or uni this autumn.

If your child uses a backpack, make sure it’s the right size for your child. If it’s too big, the straps won’t distribute the weight evenly. The load within the backpack should rest on the mid-back rather than on the shoulders. Choose a backpack with padded straps and padding at the back of the pack to avoid pressure points.

Encourage your child to use both straps. Using just one strap on a single shoulder can lead to bad posture and back pain. Carrying a backpack properly on both shoulders distributes the weight and allows both shoulders and the back to take the strain.

Show your child how to pack their backpack correctly – heavier items should be placed closest to the back to distribute the weight evenly and to prevent leaning backwards.

Encourage your child to only carry around with them the books and equipment they need for each day, reducing the weight in their bag or backpack. Better still, get them a locker at school or college so they can keep some of the things they need regularly there.

If your child or teenager must carry a lot of kit around with them – for example, for a specialist college course such as hair and beauty – consider getting them a wheeled case instead. Pulling along a case on wheels causes fewer problems.

Encourage your child to use regular back exercises to open up their spine and reduce forward flexion after hours spent slouching in a classroom or at a computer:

  • Lie on a rolled up towel placed across the spine at the upper back
  • Slowly raise the arms over the head in a stretch
  • Gradually move the towel further down the spine and repeat the stretch.

Here’s another:

  • Lean over the back of a chair and stretch the arms up and over
  • Hold the stretch to reverse arching of the back.