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How Safe are Backpacks for Your Child?

San Luis Obispo, CA- our children to do well in school. We make sure they bring home their books and do their homework at night. We make sure they have their books packed away in their backpacks and ready to be taken to classes the next day. However, what we may be overlooking is a threat to our children's spine more sinister than any fall off the swing set or sports injury.

Recently scientists have begun to examine the effects of carrying heavy backpacks full of books. What they have discovered is that carrying heavy backpacks may pose a serious threat to your child's spinal development. A team of researchers at Auburn University has studied 421 students and found that backpacks carried with one strap promoted lateral spinal bending and shoulder elevation. Additionally, they noted carrying a backpack with both straps promoted significant forward lean of head and trunk. You may have seen this postural condition, commonly known as the “Hunch Back”, in your child already.

The scientists stated that the average backpack represented 17% of the child's body weight. If we apply this standard to adults, it would be the equivalent of the average 150 pound adult carrying a 26-pound backpack!! The researchers went on to conclude that the daily physical stresses associated with carrying a backpack on one shoulder significantly alters the posture and gait of the youth. The authors of the study also stated that the effects of weight bearing induced stress is a serious issue when considering children and youths who are experiencing physical growth and motor development.  I know that none of us want our children to be subject to such issues, especially going to or from school.

If your child does use a backpack to carry books there are things that they can do to reduce the physical stress associated with carrying backpacks:

 1. Make sure that the weight of the book-bag does not exceed more than 15% of the child's total body weight. This is especially important for children in grades 1-4. A simple weight scale can help you determine this percentage.
 2. Avoid using backpacks or athletic bags that have only one strap.
 3. Ensure that children wear both straps on their shoulders to distribute weight evenly. This will significantly reduce book-bag carrying stresses.
 4. Use the waist belt at all times.
 5. Use of a roller bag is preferred, as long as there are not a lot of stairs in the school.

To help ensure students in your household avoid backpack-related pain, consider the following tips from the American Chiropractic Association (ACA):

1. Choose the right size. Bigger is not necessarily better; the more room there is in a backpack, the more your child will carry and the heavier the backpack will be. The backpack should never hang more than four inches below your child’s waistline, as this increases weight on the shoulders and causes the child to lean forward when walking.
2. Look for wide, padded and adjustable shoulder straps. Nonpadded straps are uncomfortable and can dig into your child's shoulders. The straps should be adjustable so the backpack can fit your child's body. Straps that are too loose can cause the backpack to dangle, causing spinal misalignment and pain.
3. Urge your child to wear both shoulder straps. Lugging the backpack around by one strap can cause a disproportionate shift of weight to one side, leading to neck and muscle spasms, as well as low back pain.
4. Look for a backpack with compartments. Having individual compartments for smaller items helps in positioning contents more effectively. Pack pointy or bulky objects away from the area that will rest on your child's back.
5. Check the weight of the backpack. Make sure your child's backpack, when fully loaded, weighs no more than 10 percent of their total body weight. A heavier backpack will cause your child to bend forward to support the weight on the back, rather than the shoulders.

Finally, it is important to have your child’s spine evaluated by a chiropractor to make sure it is in good working alignment with our without the backpack. Setting a weight-bearing backpack on an already misaligned spine can cause risk of injury. Simply call your local San Luis Obispo chiropractor -- or contact Powersource -- and set up a spinal evaluation that includes your child’s percentage of backpack to body weight measurements.   

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