Summer vacation has come to an end and school is back in session. It’s the time of year that I notice an increase in school-age children coming to my chiropractic office complaining of back, neck, and shoulder pain. After some questioning, I often find that their symptoms are caused by an over-weighted and improperly-fitted backpack.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are over 8,000 emergency room visits involving backpack-related injuries, and that number doesn’t count the visits to pediatricians and chiropractors. Not only can children experience acute symptoms, but years of this physical stress may lead to chronic pain and permanent postural changes. Help your child choose a safe backpack and encourage proper backpack use.
Choosing a Safe Backpack
Light weight. A backpack should not add much weight to the total load. A traditional canvas backpack is a good choice.
Two shoulder straps. A bag with one strap that is carried across the body distributes weight unevenly causing muscle strain and curvature of the spine.
Wide, padded shoulder straps. Straps that are too narrow can dig into the shoulders and compress the nerves that run down the arms. Nerve compression can result in arm pain, weakness, tingling, and numbness.
Padded back. A backpack with padding against the back is more comfortable and protects your child against sharp edges on objects inside.
A waist belt and chest strap.Carrying more weight around the waist takes the pressure off of the back and shoulders. A chest strap helps to keep the backpack close to the body.
Multiple compartments. Many compartments of different sizes distribute weight more evenly.
Proper backpack use
Always use both shoulder straps. Wearing a backpack on one shoulder will cause a disproportionate weight shift to one side of the body and may lead to muscle strain and misalignments of the spine.
Lighten the load. A backpack should never weigh more than 10 – 15% of a child’s body weight. A heavy backpack causes children to lean forward to compensate for the excessive weight pulling them backward.
Tighten the straps. Tighten the straps to keep the backpack close to the body and no more than four inches below the waist. A backpack that sags down to the buttocks puts extra weight on the shoulders, causing a child to lean forward.
Organize. Pack heavier items close to the center of the back and distribute lighter items among other compartments.
Rolling backpacks. If appropriate, a backpack with wheels may be used. Keep in mind, however, that rollerpacks can clutter school hallways, creating hazards resulting in trips and falls.
Use proper lifting techniques. Encourage your child to bend their knees while lifting and lowering a backpack. Bending over and twisting while wearing a heavy backpack can strain the back, neck, and shoulders.
A well-fitted backpack worn correctly and used properly will prevent excessive strain and injury to your child’s neck, back, and shoulders. If your child is experiencing acute pain, numbness, tingling, or postural changes, call a chiropractor for a consultation. Chiropractors can also teach proper lifting techniques, prescribe back strengthening exercises, and give postural recommendations.