Back pain and injuries are generally regarded as issues that only adults face, even more commonly as they grow older. However, children can be at risk for developing certain issues that cause damage to the spine or be the root of long-term complications that may worsen later in life. Some of the biggest issues posed to children can come about from overuse, extreme sports, or activities with heavy impacts on the spine. There are a number of activities that can increase the risk of these injuries occurring, and they should be avoided when possible to help ensure the health of your child’s spine.
Avoid Carrying Heavy Backpacks
The most commonly overlooked activities that can cause back pain in children is carrying a backpack that is too heavy. This is especially common in younger children. School backpacks can weigh more than 25 percent of a child’s body weight, which would be the equivalent of a 150-pound adult carrying a nearly 40-pound backpack five days a week. For a child, this is far too much weight.
Carrying heavy backpacks can cause a number of spinal issues, including changing the natural curvature of the spine, causing rounded shoulders and poor posture, reducing the balance and increasing the risk of falling, leading to muscle strain, compensation, and spinal compression. To avoid these issues, keep the weight of the backpack at between 10 and 15 percent of the child’s body weight, and if back pain is experienced, the child should try to take a short break from carrying the backpack or reduce the time carrying it.
The Risk of Spondylolysis from Overuse Injuries
Spondylolysis is a type of stress fracture that can occur in the lower back in the joints between the vertebrae in the spine, and this injury is commonly seen in children who participate in activities that involve hyperextending the back. Hyperextension, or overstretching, is seen in sports that include gymnastics, weight lifting, football, and diving.
As children grow up, sports and other activities can become competitive and practice and competition demands can continually increase. These fractures are generally caused by overuse often not fully developed and are more prone to fractures. It is especially common in younger children. To prevent this injury, encouraging full-body stretching, core strength, and taking breaks when needed is important.
Extreme Sports Increase the Chance of Vertebral Fractures
Because a child’s bones are still growing and developing, they are more fragile and can be prone to injury or fracturing. Some of the more extreme activities that children enjoy participating in, such as mountain biking, gymnastics, skateboarding or basketball, often result in the child landing hard on their feet, knees, or buttocks. In all of these situations, the force is transmitted along the spine.
When this force is repeated time and time again, it can cause the vertebrae and the intervertebral discs that are placed between them to wear down, making the spine prone to vertebral fractures or disc damage. Fractures can include wedge fractures, where the front of the bone breaks and collapses, or a burst fracture, where the front and back of the vertebra can be compressed and result in long-term deformity. Damage to the discs can also cause a herniation, where the disc protrudes from its normal space, which can result in pressure on the nerves. This can cause sciatica, and shooting pain can be felt in the buttocks and down the leg.
Protect Your Child’s Spine
Children are often seen as invincible due to their extra flexibility and resilience. However, it is important to be cautious with their activity level and intensity as their developing spines are prone to injuries. Carrying a heavy backpack and high-impact and high-intensity sports can cause severe damage to the spine and should be avoided to ensure full spinal health for your child.