It’s Back To School time!!!!!
That means school supplies, new clothes, new schedules and suddenly every kid you see will be carrying a backpack.
We all know that when school starts back up in the fall, routines change. Suddenly kids are on a predetermined schedule, carrying around backpacks, spending more of their day sitting at desks and less time moving. It makes sense that kiddos are getting sick and having a hard time focusing.
Making sure your child’s backpack is worn correctly and is the appropriate weight is incredibly important because repetitive actions change their posture and cause stress on their spine. As a parent, there is only so much you can do when your child is at school, but there are ways you can help your kiddo be aware and stay on top of their health.
Is it really that serious?
Your spine includes 24 vertebra, sacrum and coccyx. It protects the spinal cord, the highway of communication of brain to and from body. Changing the normal curves of the spine increases stress on the body and impacts neural patterns. This can affect their ability to stay connected and focused.
A 2014 study in Surgical Technology International Journal found billions of people using cell phones daily causing stresses on the spine from constantly looking down. Abnormal posture and spinal health, especially the head and neck, leads to low testosterone, reduced serotonin and increased cortisol.
That’s right! Your posture impacts the function of your nervous system which controls EVERY function of your body, including hormones! It’s no wonder it affects their ability to focus.
What to look for:
A heavy weight pulls a child backward. To compensate, a child may bend forward at the hips or arch the back, which can cause the spine to compress unnaturally. The heavy weight might cause some kids to develop shoulder, neck, and back pain.
Kids who wear their backpacks over just one shoulder may end up leaning to one side to offset the extra weight. They might develop lower and upper back pain and strain their shoulders and neck.
Tight and narrow straps that dig into the shoulders interfere with circulation and nerves. Straps can contribute to tingling, numbness, and weakness in the arms and hands.
Studies show children should not carry more than 15% of their weight.
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends:
- When Purchasing a Backpack:
- lightweight pack that doesn’t add a lot of weight to your child’s load (for example, leather packs weigh more than traditional canvas backpacks)
- two wide, padded shoulder straps; straps that are too narrow can dig into shoulders
- a padded back, which not only provides increased comfort, but also protects kids from being poked by sharp edges on objects (pencils, rulers, notebooks, etc.) inside the pack
- a waist belt, which helps to distribute the weight more evenly across the body
- multiple compartments, which can help distribute the weight more evenly
Are Roller Bags the Solution?
Roller bags take weight off the child’s spine and shoulders, however, empty roller bags may weigh 80% more than an empty backpack. They are larger and can be overloaded easily.
Although roller bags will be rolled, students (and their developing spine) are at risk when lifting the bag up or down stairs, stairs, or retrieving it from the back seat of the car.
Tips to minimize the damages of backpacks and technology
- Limit technology use.
- Use proper posture when using backpacks and technology.
- Regular stretching and movement exercises specifically for spine and posture.
- Drink at least half their body weight in water.
- Stand, stretch and move often.
5 Things Parents Can Do
- Every Sunday go through your child’s backpack with them. See what has accumulated and adding unnecessary weight. Ask if they need to carry all of this, every day. Does their schedule vary on Monday, Wednesday and Friday?
- Weigh your child’s backpack weekly to make sure it stays under 15% of your child’s weight (safe zone).
- Check the straps for proper placement on their shoulders and make sure the bottom of the backpack is two inches above the waist on the curve of the lower back.
- Remind your children weekly that wearing the backpack on both shoulders prevents posture problems and promotes good health.
- If your child is not under regular chiropractic care, check their shoulder and head level at least once a month to check for early signs of repetitive stress on their developing spine. A chiropractor who is trained to detect the early signs can perform this exam. Like dentistry, early detection and correction is key to better health.
What Kids Can Do
- Encourage kids to use their locker or desk throughout the day instead of carrying the entire day’s books in the backpack.
- Make sure kids don’t tote unnecessary items — laptops, cell phones, and video games can add extra pounds.
- Encourage kids to bring home only the books needed for homework each night.
- Ask about homework planning. A heavier pack on Fridays might mean that a child is procrastinating on homework until the weekend, making for a heavier backpack.
- Picking up the backpack the right way can also help kids avoid back injuries. They should bend at the knees and grab the pack with both hands when lifting a backpack to the shoulders.
- Use all of the backpack’s compartments to distribute weight, putting heavier items closest to the center of the back.
Scoliosis and spinal health checks
Did you know most cases of scoliosis can be reversed if detected early (prior to puberty). Is your child’s school doing scoliosis checks? Call and ask! If scoliosis is detected at age 13 in a young girl it leaves a much shorter window to impact those curves in the spine. Scoliosis checks should start around age 5.
I highly recommend getting all children checked by a pediatric chiropractor to assess for scoliosis and posture changes. Our kids have physical, chemical and emotional stress just like we do. Supporting their body so that it can work the way it is supposed to is just as important as for adults. As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.
- Surgical Technology International Journal 2014 Nov;25: 277-9. Hansraj, KK.
- Beyond Technology and Backpack Use… Your Family’s Health, Dr. Dan Sullivan DC