It's back to school time and that means backpacks! It may be just another thing on the school supply list, but it's one that's putting stress on your child. Recent studies have shown that more than 50 percent of children will experience at least one episode of back pain by age 18 to 20. A major contributor to this epidemic of back pain in students is, undoubtedly, the use of overloaded backpacks.
A study out of Spain last year looked at 1,403 students ages 12 to 17. They found that 60 percent were carrying packs that weighed more than 10 percent of their body weight. The children carrying the heaviest backpacks had a 50 percent increased risk of back pain compared to those carrying less weight. The researchers concluded that carrying overweight backpacks increases the risk of back pain, and possibly pathology, and that the incidence of children carrying heavy backpacks is extremely high.
Pain often results when the weight of an overloaded backpack pulls the child backward. To compensate, they must lean forward and arch their low back to stabilize the load. When a child has to lean forward to carry their pack, they also have to raise their heads to see where they are going. This is a recipe for poor posture and chronically rounded shoulders that we see all too often at 505 Chiropractic. This altered posture compresses the spine and puts pressure on the nerves exiting between the vertebrae. Muscle spasms, headaches, numbness, tingling and weakness are a few of the potential consequences.
JV Family file photo
Students line up to board the school bus on the last day of school at Mifflin County High School in June of 2013.
There are other safety concerns as well. The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that 6,512 emergency room visits each year result from injuries related to book bags. The CPSC also states that backpack related injuries have skyrocketed over 200 percent since 1996. Carrying a heavy backpack changes the way a person walks and increases the chance of falls, especially on stairs where a backpack puts students off balance. Kids are not always aware of how much space they take up with a large pack, so injuries occur when they try to squeeze through tight spaces or when turning around.
Here are a few tips as you start back-to-school shopping:
Two straps are better than one. Two wide straps will divide the weight evenly between two shoulders rather than concentrating it all on one side.
- Two straps are better than one strap.
- Look for padded shoulder straps
- Choose a pack with compartments
- Use chest and abdomen straps
- Apply reflective material
Look for padded shoulder straps and backing. The thicker the padding, the better to protect the shoulders and the back from the books. Kids are more likely to wear their backpacks properly if they are comfortable.
Use the four inch rule. The backpack should not descend more than four inches below the child's waistline. A heavy load carried below the hips will cause the low back to arch for stability.
Compartments can help. A properly packed backpack sways less and moves with the child. Compartments make balanced packing much easier.
Use chest and abdomen straps as they help to stabilize a heavy load and will transfer some of the weight from the back and shoulders to the hips and torso.
Apply reflective material to enhance the visibility of your child to drivers at night.
Here, at 505 Chiropractic, we recommend that a child's backpack should weigh no more than 10 to 15 percent their body weight. This means that an 80 pound 9-year-old should carry no more than 8 to 12 pounds in the backpack. Check your child's backpack on your bathroom scale to see how much weight they are carrying. Encourage your child to only carry what they need each day and get into the habit of checking the backpack once a week for unnecessary things that add weight such as sports equipment or extra notebooks.
When packing, teach your child that the heaviest stuff goes on the bottom (toward the back) and the lighter stuff at the top. This will result in a pack that sways less and moves with your child. Make sure they are using the pockets and compartments to distribute the load evenly. The straps should be tightened so the pack is close to the body and the backpack should not hang more than four inches past the waistline.
Observe your child with their backpack. Do they struggle to get it on their back? Does their posture change while wearing it? Does it leave red welts on the shoulders? These are all signs that a backpack is too heavy for the child.
The good news is that if your child develops back pain, their young bodies tend to recover quickly. Simply making sure that their backpack isn't overloaded should fix the problem. If they have some lingering pain, chiropractic care can help.
As I write this article, I can't help but think about my daughter who starts kindergarten this year. She's about to begin a new chapter of her life filled with new friends and experiences. She is so excited to meet her new teacher and classmates. The last thing I want weighing her down is a poorly fitting backpack.