This is the time of year we think of hot afternoons, apple picking, weekend camping, and school aged children having back pain. Wait…..WHAT? Even though you may not realize it, you did read that statement correctly. As kids go back to school, their bodies are put under undue stress and weight from all the text books and supplies they need each day. This often times results in pain, whether it be low back pain, shoulder pain or headaches. As humans, we want to avoid being in pain. It’s especially important to find the cause of pain when it involves children as they are growing. Here are a few tips to keep in mind for your children to keep them healthy as they head back to school this fall and anytime they are carrying an extra load.
First things first, check the weight of your child’s backpack on a regular basis. The total weight of the bag needs to be no more than 10-15% of their body weight. Any more than that and it can cause harmful effects on their spine and joints. Once you do the math, you’ll realize that much of the time your child’s backpack is far too heavy.
If your child has to carry a heavy load, make sure the heaviest items are packed closest to the body. In other words, pack text books against the back of the bag and lighter items farther away from the body. Encourage your child to use both of the shoulder straps. It may be more fashionable to only use one strap, but long term use of only one strap causes imbalances in posture and muscles leading to shoulder, neck and upper back pain. Make sure the straps are both wide and well padded. If possible, buy a backpack with a waist strap. Using the waist strap will help distribute a portion of the burden onto the hips versus all of the weight of the bag being on the back and shoulders. Another feature of a better backpack to look for is one that has built in padding across the back for comfort and protection.
Roller-style bags and messenger bags have become more popular. Even though you may think a roller bag will mean reduced stress on your child’s body, that isn’t always the case. Many times children pack even more stuff into a roller bag because it’s easy to tote around. The problem then comes when they need to lift the bag up stairs or over a curb. Repeatedly tugging on a bag that weighs too much can lead to shoulder injuries. If your child can only use a roller style bag, ensure they aren’t overstuffing it and can properly lift it with their knees (and not their back) to prevent problems in the future. The same goes for a child that will only use a messenger bag. If this is the case, have your child switch the bag from side to side to keep muscles balanced and gait even.
Lastly, look at your child when they have the backpack on. Make sure that bottom of the bag falls right at their hip level. What you don’t want is the bottom of the backpack too far down their legs and body. That will cause them to have an abnormal gait, increasing the likelihood for, among other things, trips and falls. Also look at their posture with the backpack on. From the side, you want their ear to be over their shoulder and their shoulders directly in line with the hips and feet. If they have their head out in front of their body or their posture seems off, that is a problem. Always remember that posture is the window to your spine, and your spine is the window to your health. If you’re having a problem fitting your child’s backpack, ask the advice of a professional. Most Chiropractors, Physical Therapists and Pediatricians would be more than happy to help. They all care about the health of your child, especially when we know that there are 33 moveable bones in your spine all with a disc in between. Those discs act as natural shock absorbers and we don’t want to see them under unnatural compression which we know leads to long-term problems. You may not realize now the importance of having a properly fitted backpack, but do yourself and your child a favor and pay attention to prevent future problems from occurring. As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Here’s to a healthy, happy start to the 2015 school year.