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‘Back’ to School Tips for Kids Back Health

Jul 29, 2011 11:06AM ● By Dr. Jeff Winternheimer

Mom always said, “Eat your vegetables, do your homework, sit up and don’t slouch.” Well, she was right. Many problems can be traced to the adolescence of a child and the way they treat their back. Three major habits can cause back problems later in life: improper posture, backpacks and sports.

Poor posture has become an increasing problem as children are sitting in a back-threatening position instead of being active. Video games, computers and television are all risk factors. There are actually a few beneficial video games, such as Xbox Kinect and the Nintendo Wii, but they are in the minority so far. It is important to sit upright with a relaxed back, making sure to not hunch over and put strain on the upper or lower back. Regularly scheduled breaks to stand up and do simple stretches will improve their fitness level.

One hidden danger that parents often overlook is the effect poorly fitting backpacks can have on their child’s back health in their later years in life. The American Physical Therapy Association and the American Chiropractic Association both agree that backpack design and proper form are two huge danger zones that many parents overlook. It is important to pack the heaviest items first, so that the weight is kept closest to the body and furthest from the shoulders. Make sure your child wears both straps to avoid unnatural curving of the spine.

Limit the weight in their backpack to 10-15 percent of a child’s bodyweight. Look for backpacks with features that will reduce the chances of back pain, such as lightweight material, padded straps and backs with adjustable straps at least two inches wide and hip straps or a waist belt to help redistribute some of the weight from the back to the hips and pelvis. Find backpacks that have wheels, so that it may be rolled instead of carried.

Children need to warm up their muscles and stretch out their body before participating in sports, so it does not accumulate excess stress before properly prepared. They need to do warm-ups and cool-downs before and after games and practices in order to ensure they will not pull a muscle or develop bad back pains or other complications. It is a good general rule to maintain as straight a back posture as possible at all times. This means that even when a sport calls for squatting down, a child should not lean forward, but squat as far down with as straight a back as he or she can maintain.

When it comes to kids and back pain, I understand what the major problems are in our current culture that cause back pain for kids, because I have four children of my own.

Dr. Jeff Winternheimer is the founder of the Illinois Back Institute and originator of Functional Disc Rehydration, a non-surgical, drug-free treatment for patients with chronic back and neck pain. Illinois Back Institute has locations throughout Illinois: in their newly-opened Arlington Heights office, as well as Wheaton, Berwyn, Countryside and Orland Park. For more information and to learn how to receive a free consultation, call 1-866-693-0955 or visit