Physical and Occupational Therapy: The Back to School Edition

It’s back to school time! Returning to the classroom means school sports, writing notes and carrying backpacks from class to class. While most Occupational and Physical Therapy plans tend to focus around adult care, children need their attention too! Today we’ll focus on the PT and OT needs in children and teens not only from sports related injuries, but also every day pains they may experience while returning from summer vacation.

Physical and Occupational Therapy Treatment in Children and Teens

Occupational Therapy

The typical injury types most Occupational Therapists will see in young populations involve the fingers and wrists. Finger injuries often come from dislocations and fractures of the fingers during team ball sports, such as volleyball and basketball. Wrist sprains are also a common occurrence, sustained in tumbling activities like gymnastics and cheerleading. Though the majority of hand injuries are sports related, falls of any kind from being tripped or slipping on icy/wet surfaces also contribute to childhood finger and wrist conditions.

Physical Therapy

When it comes to Physical Therapy, the most common injury types seen amongst adolescents involve back pain from carrying heaving backpacks, cervical/spine/neck pain from poor posture control and major joint injuries related to sports. For a deep dive in youth sporting injuries, check out one of our previous blogs: “Injuries in Active Teens and How to Prevent Them”. When it comes to non-sports related conditions, poor posture is often the culprit. Many teens (and adults for that matter) have a habit of hunching and rounding the spine when typing on a computer/ laptop or while using their cell phones. Backpack usage is also a source of major back pains, but we’ll talk more about that later. Treatment for these cases often involves changing ergonomics, working on posture and strengthening the core.

Treatment Differences in Adults and Children

Administering care for a child can sometimes vary from an adult because adolescents tend to have a quicker healing time. However, they also tend to be less compliant with cautious care and home exercise routines. Young athletes in particular tend to jump back into practice before they are fully healed. Many Occupational (and sometimes Physical) Therapists will often try to send the young athlete home with a brace or splint. These devices allow the athlete the ability to play their sport while providing more protection and stability in the healing area. From a PT standpoint, treatment between adults and youth looks a little different with because kids get bored. Adolescents do not always take their health and recovery as seriously as adults do so it is important to keep kids and teens engaged in their program by getting more creative and fun with exercises.

Writing Tips from an Occupational Therapist

For smaller children or adolescents overcoming a hand injury, properly holding a pencil or pen can be a difficult task to learn. There are youth OT clinics out there that specifically work on handwriting techniques for smaller children who have trouble holding utensils and other fine motor skills of the hands and fingers. Typically, a “tripod grip” is the preferred method of pencil holding that most OTs will preach, this involves pinching the writing utensil with your thumb and index finger, using the side of your middle finger as a resting guide. Rubber/silicone pencil grippers with proper positioning indents can also be used for better form and comfort.  

What About Computer and Tablet Users?

With the older, more tech savvy population, workstation set up is essential to reducing hand or back pain and complaints. This is true of the adult computer worker as well. Students who tend to throw their laptop on their lap while slouching on the couch, or keep their tablet in front of them while laying on their stomachs on a bed or floor can develop hand/wrist pains, elbow conditions or potentially back/ neck pains over time. To prevent these ailments, keep your computer on a desk or table with the monitor just below eye level. Your forearms should be parallel to the floor with wrists straight, not bent. Choose a chair with lower back support and sit up straight with your feet flat on the floor or a footrest.

Pesky Backpack Pains

Heavy backpacks are one of biggest culprits in back pain among children and teens. With short time between classes, students tend to load up their backpacks with books, instruments, lunch and sporting equipment to avoid constant travel to their lockers. Additionally, the “cool look” may be to only use 1 strap, placing all of the weight of the backpack on a single shoulder. To combat backpack pain, students should keep an upright posture, use both shoulder straps and should try not to overload the weight. While rolling backpacks are definitely more ideal for reducing back pain, they are far less popular due to lack of style.

Caring for Minors at Motus

Typically, at Motus, we start seeing patients around 12-14 years old through adulthood; however, we can treat younger age groups based on injury type and their physician prescription.  With any minor, parent communication and education is essential and we stress the importance of family education for home exercises and care. We provide guidance to parents not only on their child’s current care plan, but also on things to look out for in the future, such as posture changes and side compensation.

Contact us today to have your student assessed for a school or sports related injury!

Scroll to Top