As the mother of a teenager, the prevalence of musculo-skeletal problems in teens is interesting to me and recently I’ve seen many more high school children presenting at my practice complaining of back pain, neck ache and headaches.  With the new term starting soon I decided to analyse the research and prevalence of problems and try to offer some solutions.

Looking back one of the first articles I wrote for Todmorden News in 2008 was about the weight of school bags and how this affected children’s backs. Research carried out by Helen Behrens, a nurse and lecturer, had shown that 30% of children carried schoolbags weighing over 10% of their bodyweight. She reported that this placed unnecessary stress on the growing adolescent spine that, later in life, could be the cause of back pain.  I believe that this is still a significant problem – neither of our local high schools have lockers for the students to use meaning that children carry heavy loads not only to and from school but throughout the school day including all their books for each day plus any PE kit, instruments for music lessons and ingredients for food technology.

The next issue is the poor design of desks and chairs in schools with uncomfy seats and often a mismatch between school furniture dimensions and the size of our growing teenage population.  Researchers found that “almost two thirds of the students studied suffered from back pain and that large differences between desk height and elbow height was associated with a greater likelihood of the adolescents having this problem. Girls were more likely to suffer from the desk height discrepancy than boys; 59% of girls and 47% of boys.”  How can we expect teens to be engaged in lessons if they are so uncomfy?  And what problems are we setting up for their future?

In the last 10 years I have seen a significant increase in the number of teens I see with headaches. Research published in the USA reports that headaches are very common in children and adolescents. In one study, 56% of boys and 74% of girls between the ages of 12 and 17 reported having had a headache within the past month. The researchers blame this on stress and lifestyle issues.

The other group I see in large numbers are boys (mostly) as they go through their teenage growth spurt.  Did you know that they can grow up to 9 cm in a year!  During this time the bone growth happens faster than the muscles can keep up with, leaving them with ‘growing pains’.  The correct stretching regime makes a huge difference to this group and usually improves their sporting performance too.

For my part I am sure that posture is a huge factor in all these issues – when I treat the teens that present in my practice the majority have dreadful postures.  Slouching has always been the preserve of our teenage years, but now our children spend their leisure time on a Laptop, tablet, Xbox or smartphone instead of playing out, so their poor posture is amplified.  The great news is that as a Physiotherapist I can help all of these conditions and wherever possible I encourage the teen and the family to work together on posture change and exercises which are simple to do.

So what can we do to help our teens?  Here is my action plan to solve some of the problems:-

Encourage your teenager to:

  • Eat regular meals, especially breakfast
  • Get at least 8 hours sleep a night
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day
  • Drink 6-8 glasses of water a day
  • Limit Laptop/Xbox use to 30 minute bursts
  • Buy an office style chair for them to sit at for homework
  • Make time to relax in a supported position
  • Use relaxation strategies to reduce stress
  • Learn to sit upright and stand tall

If you are worried about your teenagers aches and pains seek medical advice or visit a Physio for advice – you can book an appointment to see one of our Physios outside of school hours or on a Saturday morning by calling 01706 819464.  Often a few sessions of Physio can really nip a problem in the bud!

By Lynne Midwinter MCSP, Chartered Physiotherapist, Physio & Therapies Ltd

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