Back pain is normally associated with growing older but according to one physiotherapists the problem is no longer confined to adults.

Physiotherapists say a combination of today's couch-potato lifestyles and the stresses and strains of going to school add to the problems. Modern living habits mean many more children could face serious back trouble in later life.

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy has launched a new leaflet introducing parents to the factors that contribute towards childhood back pain.

It also provides them with the know-how they need to help their children develop good habits at a young age.

While heavy satchels and ill-fitting classroom furniture can contribute to back trouble, books and bags alone should not cause bad backs.

Physiotherapists suggest it is only when the everyday physical demands of school life are combined with sedentary lifestyles and poor posture that real back problems begin to set in.

A recent survey of 202 12-14 year-olds at a secondary school found 54 per cent of girls and 43 per cent of boys who responded had experienced lower back pain in the past month.

The human spine is made up of small bones called vertebrae. The vertebrae are stacked on top of each other to form a column and between each vertebra is a cushion known as a disc.

The lower part of the back holds most of the body's weight.

Even a minor problem with the bones, muscles, ligaments or tendons in this area can cause pain when a person stands, bends, or moves around.

Less often, a problem with a disc can pinch or irritate a nerve from the spinal cord, causing pain that runs down the leg and below the knee.

Emma Eve is a chartered physiotherapist working for Worthing and Southlands Hospitals NHS Trust.

She said: "The car culture and a passion among children for computer games, crisps and fizzy drinks has created a scenario where inactive lifestyles and bad diets are the norm.

"Such habits encourage poor posture and weight gain and mean that joints and muscles are not worked through their full range and normal length. This makes it more difficult for the body to cope with day to day tasks.

"We take many of the practices of childhood into adult life so our chances of maintaining a healthy back into adulthood are also greatly reduced."

The leaflet explains how teenage growth spurts can sometimes result in temporary uneven posture and lead to pain from tight or over-stretched muscles and nerves.

It also describes how to choose sensible backpacks and an explanation of how to pack and carry them so they will cause the least strain on the spine.

Parents are also shown how to create a safe homework environment with tips on using computers and choosing adjustable furniture.

Ms Eve says what children do in their free time could ultimately determine the future health of their backs -

and hometime provides an opportunity for children to engage in physical activity.

She said: "The Healthy Schools Programme recommends one hour of moderate physical activity every day to mobilise and strengthen the spine.

"This does not mean spending hours in front of the TV flicking through the channels or sitting hunched up playing on games consoles.

There is plenty parents can do to help instill good habits in their children at an early age.

"As a family, eating a wellbalanced diet and building regular exercise into leisure time is highly recommended.

"Children with sedentary lifestyles and poor diets are more likely to be overweight which places extra stress on the spinal joints, hips and knees."

A free copy of the leaflet is available by sending an SAE marked Backs to the Future to Communications and Marketing, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, 14 Bedford Row, London, WC1R 4ED.