By Michelle Carrington
Keep Children Active to Avoid Back Pain
The same principle applies to adults and children alike: the fitter you are, the better your body can withstand the strains of sustained postures and sedentary periods. Most of us know that it is good for our children to be active, but putting it into practice isn’t always so easy, particularly when we’re dealing with children who enjoy screen based activities in their leisure time. However, the figures from the charity BackCare’s survey of secondary school age children in 2015 clearly found a link between being sedentary and increased levels of back pain in children. Back pain almost doubled in children with a higher than average time daily sitting time. So a few suggestions for strategies to help:
i. Walk or cycle to school instead of going by car. If you live too far away, drop your child off a little distance away from the school so that they can walk the last bit.
ii. Make a spell of physical activity after your school a normal part of your day. This is especially useful after your child’s evening meal, but any activity that can become part of your regular routine is good. Aim for at least 30 minutes every day, but anything is better than nothing. Perhaps it could be time spent on the trampoline, skipping, a bike ride, going to the park to kick a ball around, playing swing ball in the garden, or taking the dog for a brisk walk/jog. Try to make it fun and a regular thing that happens as part of the normal routine.
iii. Encourage your child to take part in sports activities outside of school. Unfortunately, curriculum time in state schools generally only allows for physical activity twice per week, which isn’t enough to remain healthy if this is the only exercise that children do. This means that to stay healthy children need to take part in exercise based activities outside of school, which can be difficult if your child isn’t keen on sport or you are on a tight budget. Clubs at school can provide plenty of varied opportunities for extra-curriculum, low cost sporting activity. In addition, most local football, rugby and cricket clubs are usually run by volunteers which makes the cost of participating much lower than if going to professional coaching sessions. These team activities have many other benefits attached, such as providing a social framework outside of school , team working and building self-esteem. My 12 y.o. son plays baseball at Guildford during the summer months which is great fun and also run by volunteers so subs are very low, although the disadvantage is that travel to away matches can be some distance!
No Interest in Sport? There Are Still Options
The Scouting Movement is another volunteer lead, out of school activity which provides excellent opportunities for children, whilst still being affordable. Cubs & brownies/scouts & guides, can be a great alternative to joining a sports club, and still involve being active rather than sedentary. Children often get the opportunity through scouting/girl guides to try out more unusual sports such as canoeing, climbing and orienteering. Children who consider themselves to “not be good at sport” often discover that just because they don’t thrive at the sports offered at school, it doesn’t mean that they don’t like any sport.
Some children who aren’t keen on sport are more willing to take part in dance and drama. Dance can be great fun and very active; and whilst drama may not be quite as physical it still involves being active and voiding prolonged sitting. There are plenty of dance and drama classes around, although they can work out quite expensive. Again, clubs at school can be really useful, or maybe try some local amateur dramatic groups to see if they include children. Some ideas for dance classes can be found at the bottom of our Article on “The Benefits of Dancing”.
Or perhaps you could take your child to the swimming pool on a regular basis? The Taro Centre at Petersfield has a waterslide and vortex pool included in its regular sessions. During special sessions there is a huge inflatable at Haslemere Leisure Centre which the children love, and they don’t need to be strong swimmers as they all wear a buoyancy aid. I used to find it frustrating when I took my children to the pool hoping to improve their swimming, and all they wanted to do was play. However, of course it is still very worthwhile. Playing in the water involves being active, time away from screens, and it’s fun (which means they won’t mind doing it).
Another suggestion is to encourage children to participate in household chores, such as laying the table, cooking and mowing the lawn, to reduce the time that they spend sitting. Parents can also make good choices about gifts, with preference given to toys that will increase activity levels, such as skateboards and scooters, rather than electronic devices.
Back Pain & ‘Screen Time’
Avoiding screen time altogether is not a realistic goal in most households, but having clear restrictions on screen time is important. One tactic is to enable children to “earn” additional screen time by first taking part in a physical activity. You can also try to steer children towards screen games which involve moving around and variation of posture, such as the Wii and Kinect X-Box. Taking a break from sustained postures in this way is helpful even if it isn’t vigorous exercise. These movement based screen games generally tend to involve interacting with other people too, providing more of a social stimulus than solo games. Dance games, such as Just Dance (available on the Wii and Kinect) can also be great fun and quite energetic.
How Much Exercise Should Children Be Getting Per Day?
Current government guidelines recommend that all children from 6-18 years old do at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per day. This may sound a lot to some people, but in Finland guidelines have recently been produced recommending that children have a minimum of 3 hours exercise per day. Put into this context, we really should try to get our children to exercise for the recommended 60 minutes per day, as this may actually be quite a conservative estimate of what is best for them.
What Else Can Be Done To Reduce Back Pain in Children?
Apart from being more active, having good posture and thinking about your ergonomics are key to having a happy back. More about that in our related articles “Back Pain in School Children: The Size of the Problem” and “Posture: The Essentials for School Children”.