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Back to School Without the Back Pain: Tips for Protecting Students’ Spine Health

With the end of summer break approaching, parents may have an added bounce in their step these days, while kids might understandably feel a little less lively. Soon, it will be time to trade in those care-free days for classes as the younger generation heads back to school or college. But whether your student looks forward to returning to campus or not, the chances of him (or her) encountering chronic low back pain, strains and more serious spinal conditions are substantial – and not always for the reasons you might think. Read on for some commonsense tips to help your child ditch the distraction of back pain while hitting the books next semester.

Dr. Chetan Patel and his team at the Spine Health Institute in Altamonte Springs, Fla., regularly diagnose the causes and contributors to chronic neck and back pain in patients of all ages, and apply conservative to advanced treatment plans for resolving these issues. If someone you know is experiencing debilitating discomfort due to a spinal condition, it’s worth seeking medical evaluation by a specialist who can help. Call us at 866.986.7497 or click on the “Book Online” button at the top of this page.

While simple muscle strains and sprains are neither uncommon nor unexpected in children, more serious spinal issues such as spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis (“slipped bone”) are an increasing concern as kids grow to adulthood. In fact, kids aged 12 and older have an increased risk of back problems compared to those below that threshold, and nearly a third of all teenagers will suffer from recurring back pain at some point. Here are a few reasons why:

Kids who work out intensively and/or concentrate all of their efforts on a single sport run the risk of overuse injuries and back pain.

If your child has a passion for soccer, tennis, track or other sports, help ensure that he or she can continue to enjoy that pastime for the long-term by making sure that the frequency and duration of their workouts are within reason for both their capabilities and their age group. Excessive training should be avoided and improper techniques need to be addressed, while core-strengthening exercises including hamstring and hip flexor stretches should be part of their daily routine.

It might also be a good idea for kids to cross-train in another area (such as rowing) that will help them build and maintain core muscles while giving their body a break from the repetitive actions associated with their chosen sport. In fact, some experts recommend keeping kids from specializing in any one sport prior to their late teens, so that muscle development can take place evenly across different parts of the body. Here’s more information on some of the spinal conditions that can impact children and teens.

Many students are still carrying way too much weight in their backpacks.

While increasing use of e-books and iPads has helped lighten the load for some,other kids routinely lug backpacks as heavy as 30 percent or more of their own body weight. That’s far too much for comfort, and a leading cause of back pain in school-age children.

An easy-to-follow guideline is to make sure that your child’s backpack weighs no more than 10-15 percent of his or her body weight. Just as important, backpacks need to be carried correctly on both shoulders and packed the right way so as to ensure even weight distribution and reduce the likelihood of perpetually strained muscles. A properly packed backpack with a front strap across the wearer’s chest can ensure the weight of the bag is as close to the spine as possible, which also will reduce stress on back muscles. Here are some good tips on now to ensure that a backpack is safe for your neck and back.

Casual footwear isn’t the best choice for that cross-campus commute.

Flip-flops may be among the most favored footwear among college students, but they’re less than ideal for trekking between classes if you want to avoid trips and falls as well as chronic back pain. Suggest that your child save those flimsy “slides” for the dorm, and make sure he has one or more pairs of comfortable, supportive and well-fitting shoes for daily use. Our recent blog on spine-safe footwear tells you why and how. 

The power of positivity sometimes gets lost under the weight of worrying.

If your child feels overwhelmed by their schoolwork, is saddled with excessive pressure to excel, or otherwise experiences lots of stress on a daily basis, this can contribute to perpetually tensed neck and back muscles as well as sedentary habits like sitting at a desk nonstop for hours – neither of which are good for your back. The truth is that a person’s emotional wellbeing plays a significant role in how they experience and cope with all kinds of pain, while social isolation, exhaustion and depression may all contribute to weight gain, loss of bone and muscle strength and – consequently – back problems.

Encourage your teen to find positive ways of dealing with stress through regular exercise and maintaining their physical fitness. These good habits can last a lifetime, and both children and adults who engage in regular aerobic activity tend to have a lesser incidence of back pain.

For serious students, poor posture is Enemy No. 1.

Kids are learning new things every day while they’re in school – but are they forgetting how you taught them to sit up straight? In fact, the way many students “slump” over their desks for hours puts them at risk for serious neck and back discomfort. Understanding the critical importance of good posture for preventing avoidable back pain, it’s worth showing them this quick video on how to sit comfortably with the right spine support. For more information on proper sitting posture, read here.

While there’s little doubt that a person’s chances of experiencing chronic back pain generally increase with age, the advantages of youth can only go so far in keeping your child’s spine safe and strong. Regular exercise, injury prevention, sensible footwear, strong core muscles and a positive attitude are all keys to keeping kids and teens on track for a healthy future that’s unmarked by the discomfort of serious back pain. We hope these tips will put your progeny on the path to long-term physical fitness and functionality!



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Preventing Back Pain in Children: Parents Can Help Kids Develop Healthy Spine Habits (n.d.). Retrieved from