By Dr. Roxane Zamora, DC
Yep, it’s that time again – as summer winds down, we’re just around the corner from school coming back in session. Right about now, families are shopping for new clothes, shoes, and other gear to prepare their student-age children to look and feel their best as they wait for buses and walk the halls of their schools.
But when it comes to choosing a backpack for your kids, you should consider more than just the design that pays tribute to a favorite football team, movie character or musician. When it comes to your kids’ spinal health, there’s no item more appropriate to choose “function over fashion” than their backpack.
Chiropractors have long recognized the spinal health hazards of heavy backpack use. Not only can it be painful, but it can also lead to significant health concerns.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, backpack-related injuries send an estimated 5,000 children a year to emergency rooms. More than 14,000 children are treated annually for injuries.
Choosing the right backpack for your children
There are several factors to consider when choosing a “healthy backpack” for your kids. Here are just a few tips to prevent spinal problems from occurring in your children:
- When looking for backpacks, look for ones that are not heavy when empty. This means giving careful consideration to the material the backpack is made from – fabrics like nylon and canvas are much lighter than leather.
- Don’t carry too much weight. With each book you put in the backpack, or carry a laptop computer, the total weight of the backpack will add up quickly, so remember:
- For younger kids, the weight of the bag should not exceed 10% of their body weight.
- For older kids and adults, it shouldn’t exceed 15% of their body weight.
- Distribute the weight evenly. If your child’s backpack has multiple compartments, it will be easier to evenly distribute the weight of the items inside. The heaviest items should be packed low and toward the center of the bag. Keep water bottles on the outside pockets.
- Choose wide backpacks with “S” shaped shoulder straps, which will ergonomically contour your child’s body. Narrow straps dig painfully into shoulders and can hinder circulation, causing numbness or tingling in the arms, which over time may cause weakness in the hands. Padded shoulder straps help absorb the load.
- Remember to tighten the shoulder straps so the pack fits close to the upper part of their back. The further a backpack’s load is from your back, the more it pulls you backward and strains muscles between your shoulders and can cause Forward Head Posture or Text Neck. Forward Head Posture may lead to decreased focus, decreased lung capacity and headaches.
- Use both shoulder straps when carrying the bag. Wearing both straps can also help distribute the weight more evenly and prevent your child from leaning to one side, which can cause pain in the neck, back, or shoulders. It also makes losing their balance less likely.
- Look for backpacks with a built-in back support, lumbar cushioning and waist strap.
- Using the waist strap holds the contents closer to your child’s back, which can help them maintain balance and protect their low back. Low back injuries can lead to shin splint pain and bowel issues, like constipation.
These pictures illustrate the difference between a properly fitted and secured backpack and one that is ill-fitting, improperly distributing the weight of its contents and putting unnecessary strain and stress on the student’s neck, back and shoulders.
Notice the differences? This student’s head is pulling forward, causing “Text Neck” to develop. Text Neck is a condition easy to identify by a forward slant to the upper spine and neck, which can cause headaches, mid-back pain and problems with focus. And remember, this same condition can be developed by spending too much time looking down at our phones – remember to positon your device for viewing so that your head stays as straight and level as possible.
When the backpack fits snugly and the straps are properly tightened, the contents are better balanced and the weight shifts evenly. Proper fit decreases the chance of low back pain, bowel and bladder issues.
Visit your chiropractor to ensure your children’s spinal health
Part of your child’s preparation for going back to school should include a chiropractic evaluation to check for spinal problems.
A common misconception is that chiropractors are for older adults, helping to fix back issues developed over a lifetime of poor spinal health practices. In fact, chiropractors have been caring for children for more than 100 years. Many common childhood ailments will respond to this safe, natural form of health care. More and more parents— especially those who are already chiropractic patients themselves—are seeking chiropractic care for their children.
How can you tell if your child has spinal problems? Unless a child has an obvious problem, it can be difficult for a parent to recognize when a child’s spine is not working correctly. There are some signs which can indicate spinal problems. These include:
- Disturbed sleeping patterns
- Breastfeeding difficulties in the very young
- Restricted head or neck movement to one side
- One shoulder higher than the other
Common childhood disorders can also be linked with spinal dysfunction, these include:
- Recurrent ear infections
- Persistent sore throats and colds
- Bedwetting and/or constipation
- Growing pains
Back to school season is full of excitement, alive with possibilities for the future and a fresh start to a new school year. Don’t let preventable spinal health issues or injuries spoil it – make sure you select the right backpack for your children and they wear it properly!
Dr. Roxane Zamora is a local chiropractor. Her practice, Imagine Wellness Chiropractic, is located in North Phoenix.
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