Back to School: Strategies for Healthy Kids
By Camille Vondruska, PT, CSCS
Whether you miss spending carefree summer days with the kids, or relish having some peace and sanity back into your schedule, the new school year is already upon us. This is a big transition time for our kids from kindergartners to high school seniors. Here are some strategies to help with the transition and to keep the focus on your children’s physical health. kids, or relish having some peace and sanity back into your schedule, the new school year is already upon us. This is a big transition time for our kids from kindergartners to high school seniors. Here are some strategies to help with the transition and to keep the focus on your children’s physical health.
BACKPACKS AND GOOD POSTURE
Back-to-school often means heavy backpacks and increased time spent sitting at a computer or tablet, which can translate into back, neck, or wrist and hand pain. The loads our kids are carrying between their school bags and sports bags have gotten heavier over the years. Backpacks are a better ergonomic choice than shoulder bags. Look for backpacks with wider shoulder straps and optionally a waist belt. Kids can avoid back or neck pain by using both shoulder straps rather than slinging it over a shoulder. This will help to evenly distribute the weight. If there is a waist belt, this will help further balance the weight to their hips and take pressure off the shoulders. Make sure the heavier weighted items are placed closer to the back inside the backpack. When the backpacks are used correctly, there is less chance of neck or back strain. The same techniques apply to evenly distributing weight in their sports’ backpacks. If your school has moved to iPads or Chromebooks, the backpack load may be significantly lowered. But you can still check to see if there is anything unnecessary in the backpack that you could remove to lighten the load. You can also remind kids to stand up straight while carrying their backpack. Leaning forward with a heavy backpack can put stress on the neck and back. By making these simple changes, you can decrease back and neck pain that can develop from carrying heavy loads in poor postures.
In our technology age, we are all spending more time on computers, keyboards, iPads, and cell phones. As physical therapists at Achieve, we have seen an increase in neck and wrist or hand/thumb issues due to the increased amount of time our kids are bent over their screens, whether they are submitting online assignments or gaming. Maintaining poor static posture over a laptop with a forward head, rounded shoulders and slumped spine can lead to back or neck pain. Repetitious keying can lead to wrist or hand overuse injuries. To help prevent some of these overuse injuries and stiffness from sustained poor posture, remind your kids to take a quick break every 20-30 minutes to stand up, stretch and change position.shoulders and slumped spine can lead to back or neck pain. Repetitious keying can lead to wrist or hand overuse injuries. To help prevent some of these overuse injuries and stiffness from sustained poor posture, remind your kids to take a quick break every 20-30 minutes to stand up, stretch and change position.
As kids return to school during these warm last few weeks of summer, they often are not adequately hydrating. Teachers understandably may not want kids taking frequent trips to the drinking fountain as it often results in more trips to the bathroom. However, kids don’t often drink enough water throughout the day. By the time they feel thirsty, they are probably already dehydrated. You may need to put them on a fluid schedule, reminding them to drink water before and after school and before and after sports practices.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends 5 cups of water per day for girls and boys ages 4-8 years, 7 cups/day for girls 9-13 years old, 8 cups/day for boys 9-13 years, 8 cups/day for girls 14-18 years, and 11 cups/day for boys 14-18 years old. Kids will need more fluid on warm days and during physical activity.
Harvard’s Chan School of Public health found that over half the students they tested over a 3 year period were mildly dehydrated. Low levels of dehydration can start to affect concentration levels. Not drinking enough water isn’t life threatening, but can cause problems such as cognitive impairment, headaches, fatigue and nausea. These issues make it difficult for kids to concentrate and learn during school hours.
Caffeinated or sugary beverages won’t help the situation. Caffeine is a diuretic and will lead to more water loss. Soft drinks provide no nutritional benefit. Even sports drinks can be a problem if consumed too frequently because of their higher carbohydrate/caloric levels due to the added sugar. Repeated use can lead to problems with obesity. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, sports drinks are usually unnecessary on the sports field. Plain water is really the best solution and should be the primary source of hydration for kids. If your kids get tired of plain water, you can infuse water with berries, mint leaves, cucumber, lemons or limes.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends athletes drink every 20 minutes or so, 5 oz for an 88 pound child every 20 minutes and 9 oz for a 132 pound adolescent. When our bodies lack water, our performance can be affected. If you are concerned about electrolyte levels for your young athlete after a prolonged and vigorous event, healthy alternative options to sports drinks are coconut water (it contains all 5 essential electrolytes), Emergen-C, or V8.
We all dread packing lunches. If you are doing the prep, it is easy to get into a lunch or snack rut. If your kids are packing their own, they are probably packing 5 Oreo snack bags and some Cheez-Its. The following are some options for snacks and lunches you can make ahead of time. Then, anyone can grab and go.
Hard boiled eggs. You can boil a dozen over the weekend and keep in the fridge to pop into lunches. Kids love dipping their food. Try packing pita or tortilla chips to dip in salsa or hummus. Cutting up veggies over the weekend will save time and the veggies can also be dipped into the salsa or hummus or even into a Greek yogurt based ranch dip. Dipping apple slices, celery, or bananas into peanut butter, or sunbutter if there are allergy concerns. Popcorn is another great snack option. If you are already making your own taco seasoning, sprinkle some onto the popcorn along with some shredded cheese to spice it up. Cut up fruit is easy for kids to pack for lunch and snacks. Some snack ideas that are high in water content and will help with hydration during the day include grapes, watermelon, strawberries, cucumber and lettuce. Yogurt is actually 80% water making it another great option for kids to keep hydrated.
If you are looking to pack a little more nutrition into veggie-resistant eaters, try this great smoothie recipe. It is simple smoothie to make and is usually a crowd pleaser.
RETURN TO SPORT/INJURY PREVENTION
After a short break from a summer of sports camps, most kids are right back into their fall sports schedules. Whether sports are through school, park districts, travel teams, gyms or dance studios, kids are busy and active. While we do want our kids to be physically healthy, kids still run the risk of athletic injury just like adults. In fact, children can be at greater risk than adults because their bodies are still growing. Injuries fall in the acute or overuse category. Acute injuries happen instantly; whereas, overuse injuries come from repetitive motions or repetitive stresses on the body. There is an overload to the tissues in the body; muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments. Mechanically the body is unable to accommodate to the stress and an injury occurs. Overuse injuries in youth athletes are occurring at a higher rate according to the American Physical Therapy Association. In the case of overuse injuries, the earlier you address any possible injuries, the easier it will be to diagnose and treat the problem.
Rest is another important piece of injury prevention. Sleep allows bones and tissues time to heal and repair. According to the AAP, children age 6-12 years should be getting 9-12 hours of sleep and teenagers 13-18 years should be getting 8-10 hours of sleep. The AAP states that inadequate rest is associated with an increase in injuries. Rest can also include a break from your child’s sport. Kids today are specializing in one sport at an earlier age. With less diversification, athletes are at an increased risk for overuse type injuries.
Most coaches realize the importance of dynamic warm ups and proper cool downs that include stretching for injury prevention of their athletes; however with tight schedules for courts and fields, stretching after practice or games may be left out or students might be told to stretch on their own. Ask your kids if stretching is done as part of a cool down for their team. If not, you could encourage your kids to stretch at home. Some injuries can be caused by a lack of flexibility in one area that leads to stress or strain in another area.
If there are any potential injuries or issues that need to be addressed or you have any questions, Achieve does provide free screenings. You can call Achieve to schedule a free screening for your athlete. We can look at posture, strength, flexibility and alignment during dynamic sport-specific activities to determine potential problems. From there, we can make recommendations on an appropriate physician or other medical professional for your athlete. By addressing any needs, we can put our young athletes on a path for optimal health.
The end of summer signals a change from summer fun schedules to the typical school and fall sports routines. Follow a few of the above tips and strategies to keep your kids healthy and happy during the upcoming school year.