Why trade teens are at greater risk of spinal injury.
After 25 years in practice as a Chiropractor I have had the privilege of caring for patients as babies thru to adulthood. During this time, I have seen young teens in some cases, move into the workforce early, i.e. a trade. I have then seen back pain and injury in young people as a direct result of their trade and then seen the fall out as they enter their early 20’s and older.
The purpose of this blog is to highlight a concern. A concern around an observable growing incidence in acute teenage back pain and injury and chronic back pain in early adult hood.
The trades in question are roofing, concreting and brick laying. A young apprentice is typically paid low wages, required to work very long hours and expected to do all the hard-labouring work. An impressionable young teenager who is eager to do the right thing by their employer rarely complains.
What I’m seeing in my practice is the fall out, young people in severe back pain and in this blog, I want to explain why. I might add there are many other risks which impact adolescents differently to teens, e.g. radiation, asbestos, pesticides, neurotoxicants, allergens, carcinogens etc.
This was taken from a paper produced by the International Labour Office of Geneva.
“Some ask whether adult standards can be used as a guide. The rules for adults take into account health and safety risks, but not developmental risks. They have value only as a warning. Logically, if something is off-limits for an adult, such as radiation or asbestos, it is obviously so for youth.
Children’s bodies, minds and judgement are still developing, even in the late teens; their reproductive systems and brain functions are particularly susceptible to any hazard that interferes with that process.
Adolescence is the last period of rapid cell growth.
Approximately 15–20 per cent of a person’s height is acquired between the ages of 10 and 20, about half during a 2-year period of rapid growth. It is at this time that damage to bones, joints, ligaments and muscles is especially likely and when physical strain and repetitive movements can cause stunting, spinal injury and other lifelong deformities and disabilities.
Adolescents are at increased risk because they lack work experience and may not make well-informed judgements; have a desire to perform well, are willing to go the extra mile without realizing the risks; learn unsafe behaviours from adults; might not be carefully trained or supervised; lack status and find it difficult to speak out about their rights; try to appear as if they understand, when actually they don’t, so as to appear competent.
There is as yet no good solid research on this, but experience suggests that it is young people’s psychological and behavioural characteristics that often put them at risk, and it is their psychological health and development which may be most affected. This is of great concern because psychological damage is often slow to manifest itself and hardest for those without explicit training to pick up. Young people are anxious to please; they may be impetuous and act without thinking, are sometimes impatient and move quickly, and lack experience; they are often reluctant to speak out on their own behalf; and they seldom have an organization or individual to represent them. Many of the jobs that are accessible to children are the ones that require – and offer – little formal training and frequently lack adequate adult supervision, which adds to the risks.”
Whilst it’s true young people heal faster, it is also true they can develop chronic pain patterns from structural and functional instability caused by injury during the teenage years.
A young concreter comes to mind. I say Jason (name changed) as a child, then adolescent and now as a 30-something adult with a young family. He became an apprentice concreter joining a long lineage of concreter’s in his family, 3 generations, at age 14yrs. Jason’s a big, strong guy and looked much older than his years however, behind his strong physique was a soft, malleable, developing frame susceptible to micro and macro trauma and injury.
Which is exactly what happened. Repetitive, accumulative micro-trauma compounded over time which has led Jason to now live with chronic back pain.
I believe there is a direct link. He simply put too much stress on his body at too young an age and now pays the consequences.
As a side-note I also see this in sports, where teens are encouraged to participate in demanding sports like calisthenics, football, rugby, soccer, gymnastics etc. and in some cases, develop disc pathology like protrusions and bulges in their teenage years.
So, there are both mental and physical risks to young sports people and workers that need to be taken seriously. The old saying, ‘you’re young, you can handle it’ is actually not true and as employers and parents we need to be more aware.
About the Author:
Dr. Andrew Arnold is a Chiropractor and the Million Dollar Wellness Mentor.
Andrew is married to Dr. Linda Wilson, the Stress Specialist and has two children, Isaac and Bella. He lives in Melbourne, Australia.