With school back in session, our focus shifts from the carefree days of summer to getting up early, juggling class schedules, and spending the after-school hours on extracurricular activities and – of course – homework. However, some specific health concerns that come with the back-to-school season, and one of the main ones is back problems caused by carrying around heavy backpacks all day. Bags allow students to carry textbooks and other items from home to school and back as well as from class to class, but these overloaded packs can stress the back, neck, and shoulders and lead to a variety of complaints including:
- Distortion of the natural curves in the mid and low back
- Rounding of the shoulders
- Leaning forward, which interferes with balance and makes falls more likely
Furthermore, carrying a backpack over just one shoulder causes the muscles to compensate for the uneven load. As a result, the spine leans to one side, which stresses the back and ribs unevenly. Here are a few of the ways that backpacks can harm your child’s back and what to do about it.
Too much weight
The weight of your child’s backpack should not be more than 10 to 15% of their body weight. You can weigh the full pack on a scale to be sure that it does not exceed this recommendation. You can also watch for signs such as an unusual walking pattern or struggling to lift the bag. Find out about technological solutions – perhaps a laptop can replace several of the textbooks or maybe there are online resources your child can use. If no alternatives are available, help your child plan ahead to carry less weight at one time in their backpack.
Backpacks are often about fashion as much as function, but it’s still essential to ensure a proper fit to avoid injury. The bag should be proportionate to the size of your child, with the bottom of the pack resting in the middle of the lower back. It should have two padded straps, and your child should use both of them. There should also be a waist strap option to help distribute the load evenly. Backpacks that are too large will not only stress your child’s spine and muscles but are also at risk for being overfilled and, therefore, too heavy.
When a backpack is too heavy, doesn’t fit well, or is worn slung over one shoulder, the result is less-than-ideal posture. When the muscles in the back become accustomed to this abnormal posture, it can quickly become habitual, even when not carrying the pack. Poor posture can become a vicious cycle in which the posture causes back pain, which leads to even more poor posture, which exacerbates back pain even further. Help your child become aware of their posture and to maintain a healthy position while carrying their backpack.
To avoid these problems, there are several steps your child can take, including using both shoulder straps, distributing the load evenly throughout the pack, adjusting the straps for a correct fit, using the legs (not the back) to lift the backpack, and avoiding leaning forward when walking (if leaning forward is necessary, then the pack is too heavy). If your child complains of back or neck pain, contact Redefine Healthcare for a consultation.