BY DR. VIKAS PURI
Now that school is about to begin, kids and parents are busy shopping for new clothes, school supplies, and new backpacks. A lot of us don’t think about backpack safety, but it is so very important to follow. More than 50% of young people experience back pain by their teenage years. Research indicates that this could be caused largely by improper use of backpacks. Prevention is key! Here are a few tips to help your children carry loads safely and comfortably.
First, choose the right backpack. Forget leather! It looks great, but it’s far too heavy. Go for vinyl or canvas. Pick a pack that has two wide, adjustable, padded shoulder straps, along with a hip or waist strap, padded back, and plenty of pockets. Make sure the backpack fits properly, not too tight around the arms and under the armpits, and its size is proportionate to the wearer’s body.
Second, pack the bag properly. Remember, they are not moving out! Make sure you pack only what is needed for that day, and that the weight is distributed evenly. It’s a good idea to know roughly what each item weighs. The total weight of the filled pack should be no more than 10% of an elementary student’s body weight, and no more that 15% of a high school student’s body weight. Pack the heaviest items close to the body, and place bumpy or odd shaped ones on the outside, away from the back.
Last, it is important to wear the backpack correctly. It’s a good idea to help young children with this, at least for the first few times. Put the pack on a flat surface, at waist height, like a table or desk. Slip the pack on one shoulder at a time, and then adjust the straps to fit comfortably. Remember, when lifting a backpack, or anything for that matter, lift using the arms and legs, bending at the knees. Both shoulder straps should be used and adjusted so that the pack fits snugly against the body. You should not be able to slide your hand between the backpack and your child’s back. The waist strap should also be worn for added stability. Backpacks should never be worn over just one shoulder, even though that may seem like the “cool” way to wear them. A heavy backpack, carried on one shoulder, forces the spine to bend to one side, straining the mid and lower back.
When the spine gets strained from wearing the backpack incorrectly, the result can be a disorder known as Vertebral Subluxation Complex. A subluxation is a restriction in movement of our spinal joints. These restrictions end up causing a variety of issues. Locally they can cause inflammation, pain and reduction in nerve flow to associated organs. Globally it leads to an increase in stress hormones in the body caused by improper proprioception or balance. When the body goes into a stress response the frontal lobe of the brain associated with learning and focus reduces in function and the amygdala of the brain, where stress hormone is produced, gets activated. This can affect a child’s school performance over and above any physical consequences.
Chiropractors are specially trained to detect and remove vertebral subluxations by way of specific chiropractic treatment known as an ‘adjustment’. The result is a prevention of back and neck pain, reduced stress hormone levels, improved cognitive function and overall improvement in health and vitality.
Other common causes of vertebral subluxations in children are: slips and falls, sports, poor posture, improper footwear, too much time on a cellphone, etc.
So, just remember, pack it light, and wear it right!