Bad posture in a child can lead to adult back problems

One in three preteens or teenagers report back pain each year. Typically, intermittent back pain is mild or moderate in intensity, and noted in the low back area or mid and upper back regions when sitting or standing long periods of time.

“Kids who are more sedentary — sit a lot while watching television, playing video games, or on their phones — and those who do not exercise independent of gym class, are at a greater risk. And research has shown that back pain tends to be more common in girls and overweight teenagers,” said Diane Dudas Sheehan, a family nurse practitioner with the Division of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.

Additionally, research has shown that persistent back pain in childhood is associated with greater health care use, increased number of days absent from school and has the potential for lifelong health consequences, such as a higher risk of chronic back pain as an adult.

Proper back alignment and posture

Your spine is made up of 22 stacked bones and in between each are disc spaces or spongy shock absorbers. There are many muscles in your back that attach the spine (back bone) to the neck, shoulders, ribs, hips and buttock region. Ligaments attach bones to other bones and tendons connect muscle to bones. These structures allow your back to be flexible and move in many directions. When the tendons, ligaments and muscles become weak, the back feels sore.

Posture refers to the alignment or position of your back which varies throughout the day. When looking down to read, commonly the neck and shoulders lean forward and entire spine arches outward into a C-shape. “Long periods of time hunched forward or with a rounded-back posture oftentimes causes neck or back pain. That's why getting up to stand, move or even lay down, creates an opposing stretch from the prior position to help the back muscles feel better,” said Risha Kotecha, a physical therapist with Outpatient Physical Therapy at Lurie.

What you and your child can do

• Use your core muscles and exercise while sitting. Teach your child to sit up straight and tall (engage his/her tummy muscles) to maintain good posture. Practice throughout the day for five to seven minutes at a time to help develop a good pattern.

• Follow ideal study positioning with a home/schoolwork station. Ideally, your child should sit in an appropriate-sized chair and at a table/desk height for his/her body.

a. Eyes at screen level

b. Back supported by a chair

c. Forearms at table height

d. Thighs parallel to the floor

“Alternate positions throughout the day: sit, stand and even lay on their stomach for a while if needed,” Kotecha said.

• Encourage movement breaks throughout the day. With every half-hour to 45 minutes of sitting, get up from your seat and move for a few minutes. During each movement break, try a different stretching, strengthening or posture exercise.

• Exercise and have fun moving. Dedicate 30 or 45 minutes to exercise every day to make it a routine. Exercise increases muscle strength, helps with maintaining a good weight, improves back symptoms and your child's chance of overall wellness and emotional well-being.

“Exercise may be challenging with some kids. However, we recommend doing things together to motivate them and help reach your own fitness goals. Trying a variety of activities help to strengthen different muscle groups and adds fun to your fitness routine. Pilates, yoga, tai chi include purposeful movement, core strengthening, mindful relaxation and breathing techniques which can improve emotional symptoms related to pain,” Sheehan said.

Additionally, with a good night's sleep, we're stronger and have more energy. Eating a well-balanced diet and drinking plenty of water can maintain a healthy weight. The goal is to have healthy, active and happy children with strong core muscles.

For more information visit and

• Children's health is a continuing series. This week's article is courtesy of Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. For more information, visit

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.