With the new school year upon us, children will be packing their school bags full of various items to take to school each day. They’ll be taking their backpack on and off throughout the day, tossing it into their locker, and leaving it in their room at night. It will be with them most of their day! Children and parents alike may not realize that their backpack could hurt them if it is not correctly fitted, if they don’t fill it properly, or if they don’t wear it properly.
How Can Backpacks Affect Your Children’s Health?
At birth, the spine is composed of 33 bones called vertebrae and by adult maturity the spine is composed of 24 vertebrae. This means that between birth and adulthood there are many natural changes occurring in a child’s spine. The joints, discs, and soft tissue structures (muscles, tendons, and ligaments) of the spine are constantly changing. During this time, the adolescent spine must be able to adapt effectively to these changes. Carrying a heavy load that is unevenly or improperly distributed can result in poor posture. For example, a heavy backpack carried on one shoulder forces the muscles of the spine to compensate for the uneven weight, placing unnecessary stress on structures of the spine. This increases the likelihood of spine problems later in life.
“More than 50 percent of young people experience at least one episode of lower back pain by their teenage years. Research indicates this could be caused by improper use of backpacks”
Prevention is Key
Some simple strategies implemented early can go a long way to preventing spine problems later in life. It is important to choose the right backpack, pack it properly, and wear it properly.
When purchasing a backpack consider these features:
1. Choose vinyl or canvas material, instead of leather, for a lighter pack
2. Two wide, adjustable, padded shoulder straps to distribute the weight better
3. A hip or waist strap that puts some of the load on the child’s hips
4. A padded back to distribute the force
5. Plenty of internal compartments to secure the contents against movement
6. A proportionate sized pack to the wearers body that is comfortable around the arms and under the armpits
How to Pack it Properly
Help your child pack their bag with these suggestions.
1. Ensure the backpack only contains what is needed for that day
2. The total weight of the filled pack should be no more than 10-15% of the wearers own body weight
3. Ensure items are evenly distributed in the pack, with heavier objects close to the body and lower in the pack, and odd-shaped objects away from the body
How to Wear it Properly
Help your child wear their backpack properly with these suggestions.
1. Help young children put on their backpack the first few times
2. Put the pack on a flat surface at waist height and slip on the shoulder straps
3. Both shoulder straps should be used. Adjust the straps to fit comfortably so the pack sits snug to the body
4. If the bottom of the backpack swings and hits the low back and buttocks the shoulder straps are most likely too loose
If your child complains of back pain, numbness, or weakness in his or her arms and legs, consult a chiropractor to determine the cause of these symptoms and to learn strategies to prevent future problems.