Health practitioners of many disciplines are increasingly concerned that our 21st century lifestyle is crippling the next generation. A major study (1) presented at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), shows a significant increase in back pain, specifically lower back pain, among children and adolescents between ages 10 and 18 years old. The increase progresses linearly with age by about four percent for each year of age. New Zealand Chiropractors’ Association (NZCA) spokesperson and chiropractor, Dr Cassandra Fairest, says: “Overladen backpacks, a lack of active play, hours spent hunched over electronic devices, and poorly designed and unsupportive beds are setting our children up for a lifetime of pain and dysfunction. The physical manifestation of these issues is just the tip of the iceberg; many other issues are likely to appear over time, such as a lack of confidence, anxiety, hormone imbalance as well as postural imbalances – to name a few (2).”
The Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons’ meeting was told that 33.7 percent of study participants had experienced back pain in the previous year, yet fewer than half (40.9 percent) had any form of healthcare to correct underlying issues. Of those who did seek healthcare, just over a third sought chiropractic care (34.1 percent). Earlier this year new guidelines from the World Health Organisation (WHO)3 on physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep for children under 5 years of age advised caregivers to encourage children to engage in more active play. Dr Fairest says: “When a child wears an ill-positioned, poorly-fitted backpack, it puts them at risk for long-term spinal and postural issues, which can lead to other life-long problems. A backpack should weigh no more than 5-10% of a child’s weight.”
“We know that many young people spend more than four hours a day reading or texting on their smartphones and when they’re hunched over their phones, the effect of the head’s weight can reach up to approx 25 kgs, which may lead to dysfunction in the joints of the neck and/or early degeneration and herniated discs. On top of this they will be sitting at a computer doing homework. Health of the spine also impacts the nervous system, and the follow on to problems such as these are only starting to be recognised, with learning difficulties and social anxiety becoming more common.”
The NZCA wants to encourage kids to do regular exercises to minimise the effects of lifestyle choices on their spines. Regular chiropractic check ups help support proper spine and nervous system integrity, and simple devices such as a foam roller, mobility ball or neck wedge can help to stretch overworked muscles and improve posture.
Dr Cassandra Fairest, says: “The best posture is your next posture. We should be regularly moving rather than remaining primarily sedentary. Good, healthy posture is learned at a young age through physical activity. If healthy physical activity, non-sedentary behaviour and good sleep habits are established early in life, this helps shape habits through childhood, adolescence and into adulthood. We have developed a simple, 3 minute daily exercise regime to support good posture and spinal health on our Straighten Up NZ website: https://www.straightenup.org.nz/”
Chiropractors are uniquely placed to provide care that specifically focuses on the health of the spine, the relationship between the spine and the nervous system, and how this may impact on proper posture. Chiropractors are taking the lead to inform, and inspire people to prevent pain and disability by educating the public to have a greater understanding of the relationship between their spine and nervous system, improving their posture, addressing and preventing spinal problems, and engaging in physical activity.
- S J Kamper, Z A Michaleff, P Campbell, K M Dunn, T P Yamato, R K Hodder, J Wiggers, C M
Williams. Back pain, mental health and substance use are associated in adolescents. Journal of Public
Health, 2018; DOI: 10.1093/pubmed/fdy129