What is my child’s spine going to be in the future?

THE FUTURE DEPENDS ON WHAT WE DO IN THE PRESENT – Mahatma Gandhi

Doc, my child carries a heavy bag. Will it affect his spine?

Doc, my daughter is on the laptop for 3-4 hours every day. Will it affect her spine?

Doc, my son is pursuing gymnastics and daughter ballet. Will it affect their spine?

As a paediatric spine surgeon, I face these and many more questions on a daily basis. The main question that every parent eventually has – What is my child’s spine going to be in the future? What factors will make it worse? What can they do to make sure that their spines are healthy?

Through this article, I will answer a few commonly asked questions in the form of FAQ.

Will a heavy school bag affect your child’s spine? What is the maximum weight a child should carry?

  • Yes, a wrongly designed and worn heavy school bag can lead to back pain in your child. Look for a bag with padded straps. Your child might ask for a messenger style or sling bag or carry his backpack only on one shoulder because it’s what all the “cool kids or seniors” are using. However, avoid any style that has only one strap that crosses the chest. Using a backpack with one strap puts all the pressure on one shoulder instead of evenly distributing it across two.
  • Tighten the straps so that it does not hang loosely as it that may put more strain on the spine. Keep it snugly fit.
  • The backpack should not weight more than 15% of the child’s body weight. Carry only what is required. If the child is walking bent forward then it means that he/she is carrying more weight than they should.

What is a correct posture?

A good posture means that you are always holding yourself in a way that puts the least strain on your spine no matter whether you are standing, sitting or on your mobile. The key ingredients for a good posture are strong, flexible and well-balanced muscles and ligaments, strong core muscles and self-awareness.

Standing

If you can draw a straight line from your ear lobe through your shoulder, hip, knee, to the middle of your ankle, then you are in good posture.

To have a good posture when your children are standing, they need to practice.

Stand in front of the mirror.

  1. Holding your head up and chin in, look straight ahead.
  2. Put your shoulders back.
  3. Tuck your tummy in.
  4. Keep your knees straight.
  5. Take a deep breath and relax your shoulders.
  6. Keep your chest forward.
  • Standing for a long time is tiring, so try to rest one foot at a time a bit higher up than the other, like on a step, or a stool.
  • Do not stand continuously. Try to move about rather than standing in one position for too long. If you find a chair sit for a few minutes and then stand again.
  • Slumping sideways into your hip is not good posture and can strain your back muscles. Good posture while standing is a straight back, squared shoulders, chin up, chest out, stomach in.

Sitting in class

Kids need to make sure that both their feet are planted on the ground, and that their backs are straight. Rounding the spine, or slouching, is a common problem and increases the stress on the spine, leading to back pain.

  1. Don’t slouch forward. Sit back and stretch your arms out to the desk or keyboard.
  2. Bring the chair close to the desk or keyboard so that arms can be rested on the desk or chair.
  3. Make sure that the buttocks are touching the back of the chair. This will prevent slouching.
  4. Don’t go for fancy looking chairs.
  5. Adjust the height of the screen so that it is at eye level.
  6. Take a break and stand up every 30 minutes. Bend backwards to stretch your back.

Sleeping

  1. Make sure the child never sleeps on his stomach.
  2. Sleep straight or on one side.
  3. Mattress should be firm. Make sure the child does not sink into the mattress.

What is the most important thing to prevent backache?

  • Exercising regularly and inculcating this habit at a younger age. Children follow their parents in many ways. If the parents exercise regularly, children see that and inculcate the habit themselves. Try and exercise at least once a week with your children.
  • Swimming and cycling are the best form of exercises for your child. They should not be lifting weights at a younger age.
  • Children should do at least 20 minutes of stretches every day and especially before playing sports to avoid sports-related injuries.

Should your child take vitamin D3?

Vitamin D3 supplementation as prescribed by your paediatrician is vital for the child’s bone health.

Will texting/playing games on a mobile/tablet affect the spine?

Firstly every parent should decide whether they want their child using a mobile, but if the older child is using a mobile then teach them to raise the phone to their eye level and keep their elbows supported on a chair or table. Looking down, can cause a tremendous amount of stress on our neck and trapezius muscle accelerating degeneration.

Can being overweight cause back pain?

Obese adults always complain of back pain. Similarly, even children who are overweight have increased chances of back pain and slipped disc. Being overweight or having a bigger belly can significantly increase the load on your spine and change the alignment of the spine thus causing stress on the spinal joints and muscles. Children should be taught the importance of a healthy diet and exercises at the earliest age possible.

What to do if a child complains of back pain? When to visit a doctor?

  • Don’t panic. Ask your child if he fell down. Look for bruises on the child’s back.
  • Apply ice. Give paracetamol or ibuprofen. If the child complains of leg pain or urine disturbances then immediately contact your doctor. If pain persists for more than a week or in case of severe pain then consult your doctor.

A child’s back in the future depends on a number of factors. However, exercising regularly and maintaining a good posture is the key to have a pain free back in the future.

Dr. Sambhav Shah | Consultant – Paediatric Spine Surgery | NH SRCC Children’s Hospital, Mumbai

Narayana Health

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