Reading, Writing--and Posture? Kids Get an A+ after Early Prevention Program to Prevent Low Back Pain
Sixty to 80 percent of people will have low back pain at some point in their lives. For some, this pain starts early in life. Ten percent of 9- and 10-year-olds have low back pain. And 13-year-olds are just as likely as adults to have low back pain. Even so, little attention has been paid to low back pain in young people--and how to prevent it.

As much as half of low back pain is thought to be caused by poor bending and lifting techniques. In many cases, teaching people to use their bodies in the right way may prevent low back pain. These authors created a program to teach kids good back health and habits, to help prevent low back problems.

The program took place during the school day and involved three different groups. Each group was made up of 35 third-grade (9-year-old) students. The first group had 11 classes that covered good posture and low back health. Students learned about the spine and respiratory system. They also practiced exercises to strengthen and protect the low back. The second group had the same number of classes about general health issues, which included but did not focus on the spine. This group did not do special back exercises. The third group had no special instruction and stuck to their regular classroom routine.

Students took a written test about back health both before and after the program. They were also "graded" on their technique for daily activities such as sitting down, getting up, and picking up and carrying objects.

Students who had the low back program learned more about back anatomy and movement than the other groups. They did better on the written test right after the program, and six and 12 weeks later. They also improved their posture and habits (bending and lifting) more than the other groups. The students in the general health program showed better back habits than those who didn't have any health education, but this difference was small.

The habits students learned in the low back program seemed to carry over in gym class and at home. In some cases, these habits even continued four years later, with 61 percent of the students still showing good posture and good bending and lifting techniques.

Compared to students in the low back program, students who didn't have health education during the test period were a little more likely to have back pain that required treatment four years later. Given that, the authors believe their low back program may have greater and lasting effects through motivation and practice, not just by giving kids information. They suggest having booster sessions a few years after the initial program to help kids keep good habits over time. They also recommend bringing in a variety of health care providers, including psychologists and pediatricians, to make a well-rounded program.
Francisco J. Méndez, PhD, and Antonia Gómez-Conesa, PhD, PT. Postural Hygiene Program to Prevent Low Back Pain. In Spine. June 1, 2001. Vol. 26. No. 11. Pp. 1280-1286.