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Back to School Prep: A Healthy Start Checklist

Taking care of your child’s health needs before the school year starts can help set them up to stay healthy and injury free.

Preparing your child to head back to class, sports, and activities after the long summer break goes beyond just purchasing supplies. It’s just as important to make sure your child’s health needs are met, to catch any potential issues and prevent school-related injury. Here, HSS pediatric orthopedic surgeon Shevaun Doyle, MD, offers tips for parents to help set their kids on the right course for a healthy school year.

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Find the Right Backpack

Heavy backpacks are a common cause of back pain in children (though they do not cause scoliosis, as some believe). A 2019 study at HSS found that one in three young people ages 10 to 18 had experienced back pain during the previous year. When choosing a backpack for your child, consider the following:

  • Look for wide, padded, adjustable shoulder straps. Straps should be tightened to keep the weight of the backpack close to the body.
  • Hip or chest belts are helpful in distributing the weight of the backpack. You’ll often see these on hiking or other outdoors backpacks, which helps the wearer more comfortably carry a heavier load.
  • Choose a lightweight backpack—the lighter the better. Consider the weight of the backpack before any books are placed in it. Backpacks should weigh 10% or less of the child’s total body weight.
  • Choose a rolling backpack if it weighs more than 10% of the child’s body weight, or if your child has existing back issues.

Schedule a Physical Exam

Schedule an annual physical exam with your child’s pediatrician around the same time every year. This exam will include a scoliosis screening as well as sports clearance if your child will be participating on a school or club team. If you have a family history of scoliosis, you should inform your pediatrician. The sports screening can identify any medical or musculoskeletal conditions that need to be addressed before the start of the season and help keep your child safe.

Stay Safe During Preseason Training

Most preseason training for school sports begins in August to prepare for the start of the regular season in September. This usually consists of two or more weeks of intensive conditioning. Many injuries, like sprains, strains, and stress fractures, occur during this time of transition from a less active summer to a high level of activity. Encourage your child to work these three tips into their pre-sports routine to reduce their risk of injury:

  • Warm-up stretches: Research has shown that warming up the muscles can prevent injury. It doesn’t have to be excessive; just three to five minutes of active motion like jumping jacks or jogging with high knees and butt kicks, followed by passive stretching—like a hamstring stretch and a runner’s lunge, in which you hold the stretch for 30 seconds—will do the trick.
  • Cool-down stretches: Research has also shown that stretching after activity can reduce muscle soreness and improve flexibility. These gentler stretches, such as child’s pose and flexing the trunk forward with knees straight and then straddled, should be held for at least 30 seconds.
  • Drink more water: It is important for your child to stay hydrated to perform optimally and avoid injury. Sips of water should be consumed throughout the day, not just during exercise. When exercising, your child should drink a cup of water for every 20 minutes of activity.

About the Expert