Dear son, how to avoid back pain

Louis Andrew Routledge was born on 7th May 2015, at 3.37pm, weighing in at 7lb 4oz (3.3kg in new money).  Mum and baby are doing very well.  Thank you for all the good wishes.  To celebrate his birth, this post is written to him (and for your children) to help them avoid back pain in future (and maybe there are some lessons in there for you too).

Dear Louis,

There are many more things I hope to teach you about life, but avoiding back pain is what I know the most about, so I’ve started with that…

Listen to Mummy and Daddy – we love you.

Louis, like all (perfectly formed) babies, you were born with a spine that is totally curled forwards; this is so that you could fit in your Mummy’s tummy.  This is called a “primary kyphosis” (kyphosis = bent forwards).  In this first year of your life, we’ll be putting you on your front quite often.  You might get annoyed about this, but it will encourage you to lift your head up, and lift your bottom up – which helps you to grow the “secondary lordorsis” in your neck and your lower back that you need in order to stand up and look straight ahead.  These curvey-in bits (lordoses) are really very important for the health of your spine, and lots of other bits of you.

In early childhood, you’ll be pretty good at sitting and standing with these curves.  But then you’ll see lots of other little kids and their Mummies and Daddies playing with little magic screens, with moving shapes and noises.  There’s a good chance you’ll want to play with Mummy’s or Daddy’s, or want one of your own.  These are called smartphones and tablets.  The more time you spend playing and learning on one of these, the more danger there is that your primary kyphosis starts to come back, and you go back to being totally curved forwards.  This wasn’t a risk for your Mummy and Daddy (they’re so old that mobile phones and tablets didn’t exist when they were young), so we grew up with good spines.  But a lot of kids a bit older than you aren’t so lucky; one of Daddy’s friends who cuts holes in people’s backs (he’s a spinal surgeon) is already seeing lots of teenagers and twenty-somethings with pain form disc problems.  This is basically because they spent too long growing up in a bent forward position.  And now schools are even giving these magic screens to kids, without any guidance on how to use them safely.

Mummy and Daddy will do our best to keep you safe from pain.  This may be frustrating for you at times, as you’ll see your friends with smartphones and tablets, but you won’t have one until you’re old enough to be taught “moderation”.  This is a word that people stopped using a long time ago – back in the 1980’s.  You’ll also be helping Mummy and Daddy not to fall into this trap – we’ll be spending less time on smartphones and tablets too so that we set a good example to you, and so that we are fit enough to do all the things we want to do with you as you get older; rather than being disabled by back pain ourselves.

Run around a lot

When you’re little (and when you’re a grown-up), it’s really important that you use your joints, bones and muscles fully.  The shape your bones and discs grow into is because of what you do with them – they keep growing and changing when you’re an adult too.  If you put different stresses on them, they’ll grow into healthy shapes, and your muscles will grow strong.  Without this exercise, your muscles will be too weak to do the jobs they need to do – hold you up and help you move around painlessly.  We’ll encourage you to try different sports, dance and other activities, but what’s most important is that you walk a lot, holding yourself up tall.  Don’t get yourself in a situation where you sit on the way to work, sit at work, sit on the way home and sit in the evening.  A lot of sitting is bad – remember that word “moderation”.

Feel good about yourself

This can be a tough one.  The way you hold yourself (older people call it “posture”) is affected by how you feel about yourself.  So Mummy and Daddy will think hard about how to help you feel good about yourself.  This isn’t about giving you empty praise, it’s about making sure that you have a go at things and feel good about managing to do them.  Little challenges are just fine to start with, like learning how to “latch on to Mummy’s boob”; Mummy isn’t at all keen on you playing rugby for Scotland (or even for the school team for that matter).  If you feel good about yourself you’re more likely to stand and sit up well, rather than be slouched forward.  Mummy and Daddy will also try to set a good example here too, as it’s well-known that children copy their parents.

When you’re a grown-up, if you have a job or a boss that you don’t like, it can be really difficult to feel good about yourself.  This can affect some things in your body called hormones; these – in turn – can affect how much pain you feel.  So try not to get stuck in a situation where you feel your contribution is pointless, not valued, or you feel stressed.

Be curious, listen to your body, and don’t be afraid of pain

Louis, you will experience pain in your life.  Listen to it.  What is it teaching you?  “Don’t touch the stove in the living room – it’ll burn you“; pain is the body’s way of telling you not to do it again.  It’s also the body’s way of telling you that sitting slumped at a computer for 8 hours a day is not good for you either.  If you ignore pain, or try to mask it (I’ll talk to you about drugs when you’re older), then the pain will come back worse.  When it does, it’ll be a lot harder to get rid of.  So, listen to your pain, and learn from it quickly.  Don’t be afraid of pain – pain is there to help us avoid future damage.  So, when you feel pain, work out what your body is trying to tell you, and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.


Louis, by the time you can read this for yourself, Daddy will have helped a million people get a better back, but if I can help you and millions of other kids to grow up with great backs, I’ll feel that’s an even more worthwhile goal achieved.   I know all the other Mummies and Daddies in the world want to protect their babies from unnecessary pain, so I hope they’ll join me in doing everything they can to help their babies grow up with great backs.

Love you forever

Your Dad



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