“Ow! My back hurts!”
If you’ve never groaned about your back before, there’s a good chance you will. Fact is, the majority of us (80%) will deal with back pain at some point in our lives. If your child carries a heavy school backpack filled with books, a laptop and other school supplies, the complaints can start early. Kids aren’t too young to get back pain, which can follow them into adulthood.
“The back has a lot of muscles working together. Carrying a heavy load can strain these muscles, leading to back pain and well as compensatory injuries in the neck, hips and groin,” says Ashley Bassett, MD, director of the new Women’s Sport Medicine Center at the Orthopedic Institute of New Jersey (OINJ). Lugging a hefty backpack can also affect posture, causing students to lead forward and round their shoulders when walking.
“Ow! My Neck Hurts!”
In addition to backpack attacks from carrying too much weight, “text neck” is another unhealthy habit that’s becoming increasingly common among students. It involves resting your chin on your chest while looking down at a smartphone screen for texting, streaming and doing homework. “Having your neck in that position for a long time can strain the cervical (neck) muscles,” Dr. Bassett says. Repetitive text neck can ultimately lead to neck pain and injury.
To avoid back and neck pain in kids, “prevention is key,” Dr. Bassett says. These A+ backpack and texting habits can help students kick off the new school year feeling their best.
Lighten up. If your student’s school offers two sets of books, one set for home and one for school, to minimize the amount of weight your child must carry, take advantage of that opportunity. Similarly, encourage your student to use his or her locker instead of carrying around a day’s worth of books and notebooks from class to class. Studies suggest that a backpack shouldn’t exceed 10 to 15 percent of your student’s body weight. Weigh your student’s backpack at home to see where you’re at. Research suggests up to 38 percent of students carry loads greater than 20 percent of their body weight daily.
Strive for balance. When carrying a backpack, students should use both straps as well as the hip strap or waist belt, if available, to help distribute backpack weight. Carrying a backpack on one shoulder causes the spine to lean to one side, stressing the middle back, ribs and lower back muscles. Also, encourage your student to pack the heaviest objects in the backpack first so they’re lower and closer to the center of gravity. If your child is willing to use a wheeled backpack, all the better.
Sit smarter. While smartphones are convenient, encourage your student to spend some time on a laptop at a desk that’s ergonomically correct. Students should sit squarely and firmly against the backrest of a chair with feet touching the floor. The computer keyboard should be directly in front, not off to one side. When your student is looking at the monitor, the top of the screen should be slightly above her line of sight. Doing homework in a neutral body position will minimize the risk of text neck and other muscle straining.
Get in on the action. To minimize the risk of text neck and thumb, limit screen time and encourage kids to go outside. “Screen time is inevitable. We’re a technology generation and that’s the way the world is moving,” Dr. Bassett says. “But it’s very important to balance screen time with sports or recreational activity.”
If your student is experiencing neck or back pain, OINJ spine doctors are here to help. To make an appointment, call (908) 684-3005.