Child Orthopedics

Frequently Asked Questions

I'm planning on homeschooling my three children starting with the oldest this fall. Over the summer, I'm going to check garage sales for school desks. How can I tell if the desk fits each child?

Good question! Sitting for long periods in an ill-fitting seat has already been linked with back pain in young children. Take your child with you when shopping. Have him or her sit in the desk.

When the child sits as far back as possible, is the thigh in contact with the seat of the chair? Does the seat press into the back of his or her knees (if yes, it may be too big). Is at least half (or more) of the thigh supported? If no, it may be too small.

Can the child sit with both feet flat on the floor? If the legs are dangling, the seat is too high. Can it be adjusted? This would be an important feature. Having a seat or desk that can "grow" with the child is very helpful and saves money over time.

To check for desk height: while the child is sitting as far back as possible, can he or she place both forearms on the desk? Can she or he do this without raising the shoulders or bending over the desk?

A desk with a slight slant and a ledge at the bottom to keep papers from sliding off is a good feature. Placing the desk at a 30-degree angle (or less) puts the shoulders and upper body in the best possible position for upper body stability. This helps with writing skills.

Some people also want a desk that has some storage space for books, papers, and school supplies. This is just a matter of personal preference and doesn't usually affect the student.

Susan Limon, PT, et al. Children at Risk. Risk Factors for Low Back Pain in the Elementary School Environment. In Spine. March 15, 2004. Vol. 29. No. 6. Pp. 697-702.

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