What is causing back and neck pain in our Children?

Ankle injuries in soccer – How they happen, and how to treat them
14 July, 2018

Dr. Jeanne van Straten

M.Tech Chiropractic (UJ)

There is a growing concern among parents about the weight of school backpacks and the effect thereof on their children. This is also evident in private practice as more children complain and receive treatment for back and neck pain as well as headaches.

Heavy backpacks may lead to children experiencing back pain

When a child carries a heavy backpack, an extra load is placed on the back. In 2010, Dr. Timothy Neuschwander of the University of California assessed the spines of eleven-year-old children in an upright MRI scanner, first with empty backpacks, then with backpacks 4,5kg, 9kg and then 13,5kg backpacks (indicating 10%, 20% and 30% of the child’s body weight respectively).

MRI results showed decreased disc space, especially in the lower back. Children also had to adjust their postures to adapt to the increased weight by leaning forward, affecting the biomechanics of the spine.

This increases hip flexion, causing further load on the back muscles which will lead to lower back pain. The head will automatically lean forward, placing added strain on the posterior neck and shoulder muscles (anterior head carriage). This posture leads to neck pain as well as headaches and these children’s sore back. For more information on pediatric chiropractors please contact us today.

When the body is placed in a forward tilted position for prolonged periods of time, postural imbalances will occur affecting neural health and muscle strength and ultimately leading to spine-related problems when children grow up to become adults.

Poor posture does not only affect the musculoskeletal system but also the mental health of an individual. Professor of Health Education Erik Peper at the University of San Francisco advised that bad posture can lead to feelings of depression or decreased energy and low levels of confidence.

Taking into account that heavy backpacks can affect our children’s posture, lead to musculoskeletal and discogenic disorders and even affect our children’s mental health as adults, isn’t it time to address the problem of back pain in children, at hand?

According to Dr Dee, a few factors should be taken into account when assessing a child who suffers from pediatric back pain and neck pain.

  • Is the back pain hereditary? Does someone in the family also suffer from similar symptoms?
  • Is there a low muscle tone involved? Does the child have rounded shoulders or poor posture? Do they lie on a table when doing homework or struggle to write due to poor shoulder strength?
  • Is ergonomics sufficient for their body type? Is the chair or table the correct height?
  • What do their school bags look like? Does the child carry their school bag on both shoulders? Does the child have a trolley bag or carry bag? What is the weight of the bag they carry?


Back pain in children can be cause by stress fractures or muscle strain

How can we avoid severe back pain in children?

Parents of children who suffer from hereditary back pain and low muscle tone are usually aware of their child’s problem before school-going age. It would have been picked up by either a preschool teacher, family member or physician and treated accordingly.

Ergonomics in terms of table and chair height have not changed in the last few centuries, but children’s bodies have not either which rules out the factor of ergonomics and leaves us with the child’s school bag causing back pain in children.

Parents and teachers should ensure that children carry backpacks correctly over both shoulders and close to the body to prevent excessive force on the child’s back. Parents should also teach children to not carry extra weight such as unnecessary textbooks, laptops or tablets.

International guidelines advise that a child should carry between 10% and 15% of their body weight. This is however not the case as the backpack-body weight ratio is closer to 20%-30%.

Many parents advocate trolley bags to lessen the load on their child’s back although some healthcare professionals advise that spinal rotation can also occur due to slight rotation of the back while pulling a trolley.

Schools will argue that children should still carry trolley bags up and down stairs to not damage stairs. That being said, if a trolley is too heavy it will also have implications on a child’s back and spine which will leave parents with the same dilemma of back pain in children.

When taking all factors in terms of school bags or trolleys into account, the weight of the schoolbag is the main problem. A general consensus should be reached where both parents and teachers advocate less weight for schoolbags or trolley bags being carried or pulled by children where 10%-15% body weight of the school bag should be applied to avoid back pain in children that may be caused by stress fractures and lead t severe back pain.

Is it normal for a kid to have back pain?

While it’s not as common in children or teens as it is in adults, back pain in children can be a problem.

Children who play sports, wear weighty backpacks to a school or are heavier than others may be more likely to develop back pain. If the pain persists it is best to get your child physical therapy and visit the chiropractor for your child’s symptoms.

What treatment is good for back pain?

There are lots of treatments for chronic back pain. Acupuncture, massage, biofeedback therapy, laser therapy, electrical nerve stimulation, and other non-surgical spine treatments can also help reduce the pain and increase the physical therapy

Speak to your doctor or a spine specialist about alternative therapies that could benefit you.

Chiropractic for back pain in children

When it comes to children’s health, chiropractic care should be customized to the patient. The first step is to understand the patient’s medical history, and then the chiropractor can adjust the patient accordingly.

The next step is a complete physical exam. An exam will help to determine any underlying health conditions and which physical therapy/ physical adjustments may be necessary.

The chiropractor will make the necessary adjustments, and you may experience a small degree of discomfort during the treatment.

If you are adjusting the spine, you may occasionally hear a popping sound as the joints are adjusted in the child.

What are the signs that my child needs chiropractic care?

A parent’s concern about a child’s body condition is a clear indication that some type of medical evaluation is needed. Young bodies are usually flexible and resilient in growing children and adolescents.

It’s best for those children who take a lot of falls & bumps during their childhood, those with weak core muscles, and sore back muscles and never stop playing.

If your child has complaints of continual or recurring neck and back pain, limited mobility, uneven shoulders, or compensation when they stand or walk, you may want to consider chiropractic care to avoid making the pain worse.

At what age can a child see a chiropractor?

When it comes to chiropractic care for kids, that’s up to you. Parents can usually make better choices about whether they need a chiropractor or physical therapist or doctor. Treatment can be safe and effective even for infants.

If your kid is younger than 3 years old, schedule a consultation first.

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