exercises, treatment, and prevention of back pain

Healthy Tips for School Kids – Ergonomics & Backpacks


Each day when we send our children off to school, we hope that they’ll learn well from their teachers, make new friends, and select healthy foods in the cafeteria. But, most Canadians are not considering a variety of hidden risk factors our kids face every day in their school environment.

A troubling new study published in the medical journal “Spine” reveals an urgent need for health promotion programs to increase awareness and reduce risks in the school environment, such as heavy backpacks, desks and chairs that don’t fit their users, and an absence of physical activity during recess.

As parents, we should be urging school administrators, teachers, and parents’ organizations to more closely examine these unexpected hazards lurking in our schools. Specifically, parents and schools should become more aware of the risks associated with heavy backpacks, improper computer ergonomics, and a lack of physical activity. For example:

Backpack Safety
I realize that I have spoken about this before, but I would like to stress it again. Young children are suffering from back pain much earlier than previous generations, and the use of overweight backpacks is a contributing factor. Here are a few tips to help prevent the needless pain that backpack misuse could cause the students in your household:

  • Make sure your child’s backpack weighs no more than 10 percent of his or her bodyweight. A heavier backpack will cause your child to bend forward in an attempt to support the weight on his or her back, rather than on the shoulders.
  • A backpack should never hang more than four inches below the waistline. A backpack that hangs too low increases the weight on the shoulders, causing your child to lean forward when walking.
  • Urge your child to wear both shoulder straps. Lugging a backpack around by one strap can cause a disproportionate shift of weight to one side, leading to neck and muscle spasms, as well as low-back pain.
  • The shoulder straps should be adjustable so the backpack can be fitted to your child’s body. Straps that are too loose can cause the backpack to dangle uncomfortably and cause spinal stiffness and pain.

Computer Ergonomics
In today’s society, almost all of elementary and high school students use computers. As a result, many children are already suffering from chronic pain in the hands, back, neck and shoulders, as well as repetitive motion injuries (RMI) such as carpal tunnel syndrome.  Make note of the following suggestions to help reduce the possibility of your child suffering painful and possibly disabling injuries:

  • Make sure the your child’s workstation chair fits him or her correctly. There should be two inches between the front edge of the seat and his or her knees. The chair should also have arm supports so that elbows rest within a 70- to 135-degree angle to the computer keyboard.
  • Your child’s knees should be positioned at an approximate 90- to 120-degree angle. To accomplish this, feet can be placed on a footrest, box, stool or similar object.
  • Limit your child’s time at the computer and make sure he or she takes periodic breaks during computing time.

Physical Activity & Nutrition
Childhood obesity has reached its highest level in 30 years. Contributing to this trend is the fact that children are exercising less and eating less healthy foods than ever before. Combat this growing problem with the following:

  • Because physical inactivity is a risk factor for obesity, children should participate in at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day.
  • Make sure your kids are getting plenty of rest. Eight hours of sleep is ideal for children. Sluggishness, irritability and loss of interest in school or physical activity could indicate that your child is fatigued.
  • Avoid serving your child carbonated soft drinks. Instead, children should try to drink five to eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day.
  • Make sure your child is eating a well-balanced diet and does not skip meals.  Avoid providing high-fat foods, such as candy bars and fast food. At home, offer fruit rather than cookies, and vegetables instead of potato chips.

Chiropractic Care Can Help
If your child complains of pain and strain from sitting at a computer or from wearing a heavy backpack, be sure that he or she see a doctor of chiropractic. A chiropractor can help alleviate your child’s pain and help prevent future injury. As well, he or she can offer advice on lifestyle changes to keep your little one fit and healthy.

Be Proactive by Doing Lower Back Exercises

Once you already have an acutely sore back, it is “too little, too late” in regards to starting an exercise program. You need to be doing lower back exercises regularly so that your back doesn’t get sore in the first place. To help you get started, below are some simple ones that I would recommend.  These exercises should be carried out slowly and deliberately, particularly for baby boomers and the elderly. If you have pain when you perform any of them, limit the particular exercise movement so that you are comfortable. If you feel pain when you start any movement, then it should not be carried out and see your chiropractor.

Starting position for all exercises is on all fours. Hands should be placed shoulder width apart, arms and thighs vertical. Use an exercise mat if you have one.

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Arch the back, at the same time, look down at the floor. Then lower the stomach towards the floor, hollowing the back and at the same time look up to the ceiling.Repeat 10 times.


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Raise one hand off the floor, reach underneath your body as far as you can. On the return, SLOWLY swing the arm out to the side as far as you can then return to the starting position. Repeat 10 times

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Stretch one arm forward in front, at the same time stretching the opposite leg out behind. Repeat 10 times

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Sit back on your haunches. Lower the body forward and down so that the nose goes as close to the ground as comfortably possible. Move forward, running your nose along the ground as far as you can go before coming upright and repeating. Repeat 10 times.

These lower back exercises and others are featured in other posts in our blog. Search the category Exercise to view more helpful stretches and exercises for a variety of back pain and prevention techniques.

Avoid Mechanical Back Pain

Mechanical back pain is the name given to any type of back pain that results from strained muscles and sprained ligaments/joints. This often occurs when you put abnormal stress and strain on these structures. Although a traumatic injury (such as a car accident or serious fall) can cause mechanical back pain, it more often occurs as a result of bad habits that can be corrected. These bad habits include: bad posture, poorly designed seating, incorrect methods of bending and lifting, inactivity, obesity etc.

The sad fact of the matter is that most of us never give a second thought to the health of our back until something goes wrong. There are a few simple rules that should be observed so as to ensure that the back remains in a healthy condition and is not subjected to undue stress and strain:

  • Choose high-backed chairs for your home. A chair should be high enough to allow easy rising and sitting, and when sitting on the chair your knees should be at right angles and your feet flat on the floor. Avoid slouching in soft armchairs for long periods of time, and always try to gently arise from a sitting position rather than jumping up.
  • Chairs at work should have adaptable seat height and a backrest. They should allow you to swivel from one work surface to another without any strain, and to look slightly down onto a computer screen.
  • When washing hair, try to kneel at the side of the bath and use a shower attachment, or shampoo hair in the shower, rather than leaning over a sink.
  • Always use a non-slip mat in the bath and consider investing in a handrail. Many back injuries are caused by slipping in the bath.
  • If engaged in repetitive tasks such as gardening, it is important to take regular breaks so as to allow a change of posture and position.
  • Avoid the wearing of tight, restrictive clothing and very high heels as much as possible.
  • When shopping, divide heavy loads between bags and carry equal amounts in each hand.  Always use shopping carts where provided and do not be shy about asking the shop assistant to pack your backs and help you to your car if you suffer with back pain.
  • Avoid constipation, as straining while on the toilet is a common cause of lower back pain.
  • Obesity is another major cause of strain on the back, so try to maintain a healthy weight.
  • When picking up small children, it is most important to bend from the knees and to hold the child closely in front of you.  The same rule applies when picking up any heavy object.
  • Buy a good, firm orthopaedic mattress for your bed and throw out that old, sagging mattress which is doing untold damage to your back while you sleep!
  • Last but not least, see your chiropractor regularly.  Through conservative and safe treatment, he or she will assist you in maintaining proper joint motion and muscle flexibility in your low back.  Not only will this address the mechanical back pain, but it will help prevent it from reoccurring in the future.

Avoiding Back Pain Problems take our Back Pain Quiz

Most Canadians will experience back pain at some point in their lives. Left untreated, back pain can seriously impact daily living, yet almost 15 per cent of Canadians report that they do nothing to treat their back pain, while almost 50 percent treat the symptoms of the back pain, rather than the actual back pain cause. Are you holding back from taking control of your back pain? Take this back pain quiz and find out.


1. Do you experience recurring back pain that comes and goes every month? Yes / No

2. Do you experience daily or weekly back pain? Yes / No

3. Do you miss out on sports or physical activities as a result of back pain? Yes / No

4. Do you believe there is no effective treatment for back pain? Yes / No

5. Are you concerned that treatment for back pain might not be covered by your benefits plan or provincial health plan? Yes / No

6. Have you taken pain reliever for more than three days in a row to treat back pain? Yes / No

7. Are you worried about what a diagnosis might mean if you visit a health professional? Yes / No

8. Do you hope that your back pain will go away on its own? Yes / No

9. Are you too busy to seek treatment for your back pain? Yes / No

10. Do you just tough it out when you experience back pain? Yes / No

If you answered “yes” to four or more of the questions or “yes” to questions 9 or 10 in our back pain quiz , you are probably avoiding dealing with back pain that is limiting what you want to do in your life. So, if you experience back pain that restricts your activities and lasts for more than three or four days, stop holding back and visit a chiropractor.

A combination of specific therapeutic exercise and chiropractic treatment, together with minimizing or eliminating the triggers of your pain, are often successful in getting patients back to feeling and being healthy.  It will also play a major role in preventing the back pain from reoccurring.