If you have a middle school or high school student, chances are he or she is carrying an overloaded, heavy backpack. And some of the area’s schools offer no lockers, so your child may be dragging around a Sherpa size backpack all day, potentially causing pain and damage to his or her growing spine.
Dr. Stefanie Haugen is a parent of two who trained at Logan College of Chiropractic in St. Louis, MO and currently practices in Seattle, WA. "Carrying a heavy backpack improperly over time can definitely result in long-term challenges to a child’s spine said Haugen, including, “strained muscles and joints, headaches, forward head posture and causes serious back pain, just to name a few."
Haugen explained that the most common symptoms reported from backpack use is “rucksack palsy."
"This condition results when pressure put on the nerves in the shoulder causes numbness in the hands, muscle waiting and in extreme cases, nerve damage. While there are many causes of back pain, backpack-caused pain is a serious, yet preventable cause,” she said.
Many students do not carry their backpacks properly, said Haugen.
“Do not sling it over one shoulder and don’t let it ride low on the back,” she advised.
Avoid letting your student use too big of a backpack, cautioned Haugen. The bottom of the backpack should align with the curve of the lower back, and should not be more than four inches below the waistline.
Haugen explained that parents should encourage children to not “carry a locker's worth of books to home and back to school everyday. Have them only carry what is needed for the day.” Also, she advised placing the heavier books closest to the back, in the closest compartment to the back for the best distribution of weight.
Parents should listen carefully and respond immediately when a child complains of pain associated with carrying their backpack, instruments and sports equipment.
“If they complain of neck or back pain, take them to see your family chiropractor, a physical therapist, or your family doctor or another posture specialist,” Haugen said.
Haugen said keeping children free of injury starts with getting the proper size of backpack with wide shoulder straps. “Shoulder straps should be cinched up with the backpack snug against their back, now hung low over their low back, pulling back on the spine. A backpack’s shoulder-strap anchor points should rest one to two inches below the top of the shoulders."
She also recommended several packs designed or endorsed by Doctors of Chiropractic. Air Pack brand backpacks, which her own kids use, which are specifically designed to distribute weight better. Air Packs are available from Amazon.com and at some Chiropractic offices. Other recommended brands include DC packs, Targus RakGear backpack’s and North Face.
“Their backpack shouldn’t exceed 10 to 15 percent of their body weight. An 80-pound kid shouldn’t be lugging around a 12-pound backpack on a regular basis,” Haugen said. "However it is ok for kids to haul heavier packs occasionally, like on family hikes or camping trip." She advises kids to pick up heavy objects such as backpacks and instruments by bending down and using their legs to lift the weight, not by bending over and pulling up. She says parents should avoid having a child twist around, such as when exiting the car, to try and pick up a heavy backpack or instrument case and haul it up and over a seat back.
Haugen says maintaining proper posture is important for kids and teens and that this generation often has “video game posture” of shrugged shoulders and rounded backs as they hunch over laptops and video game equipment.
Yoga teacher and mother of two, Alison Eliason, says yoga can be beneficial for spinal alignment.
“A regular practice of yoga ideally creates a habit of correct posture with a 'neutral spine,'" Eliason said. "Yoga’s emphasis on strength of the core muscles helps keep the spine tall and the back in alignment. 'Mountain pose' is a prime example of a posture in yoga that teaches yoga students to stand tall and walk without rounding forward. Other benefits of proper posture are strength and more energy—such as for staying alert in class.”
These tips were originally published on Sammamish Patch.