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Backpacks are extremely helpful when it comes to transferring schoolbooks, supplies and lunches from home to school and back again. However, the type and size of your child’s backpack could cause your child to experience headaches or back pain. Scientific research has shown that more than 50% of all children experience low back pain by the time that they become teenagers. Children or teenagers who complain of neck soreness, numbness in the arms and fingers, shoulder pain and/or headaches could be suffering from the results of a backpack that is worn improperly or is too heavy.
The following information can help you choose the back pack that is appropriate for your child:
The size of the backpack should reflect the size of your child. If backpacks are too large, they provide additional strain to a child’s back and shoulders. The top of a backpack should lie snug against your child’s shoulders and not extend above them. The lower part of the backpack should rest comfortably in the small of your child’s back and not fall below the top pocket line of his or her jeans.
Choose backpacks with wide, adjustable padded straps and padded back panels. Comfort here is the key. Avoid backpacks with narrow straps that cut into your child’s arm or armpits and reduce blood circulation or the nerve supply to arms and fingers. A padded back panel in a backpack is more comfortable and secure.
Backpacks with more pockets are preferable to backpacks without. It is easier on a child’s back if the load in the backpack is distributed evenly rather than lumped together in one large pocket.
Children benefit from an additional hip strap or waist belt. These straps help to shift the weight of the load in the backpack from the shoulders onto the pelvis. Waist belts ultimately reduce the strain felt in your child’s neck and shoulders because the pelvis carries the weight of the backpack more easily.
Once you have chosen the appropriate backpack for your child, please ensure that your child is wearing his or her backpack properly. Backpacks are meant to be worn on two shoulders so that the load is distributed evenly throughout the body. A backpack that is consistently worn on one shoulder causes your child’s spine to curve to the side to hold the backpack in place and increases strain on your child’s shoulder, neck and low back.
Optimally, the most a child should carry in his or her backpack is no more than 15% of his or her body weight. A load more than 15% body weight will cause increased strain on the shoulders and low back and contribute to the potential for injuries and/or back pain. Once you have established the maximum safe weight that your child can carry, pack the backpack so that the larger and heavier items are closest to the back with the smaller items to the outside. This holds the heavier part of the load closer to your child’s back and reduces undue strain.
Lifting and twisting a heavy load increases the potential for back injuries for anyone, but especially for a child with a heavy backpack. To avoid this, teach your child to put on a heavier backpack from a tabletop. Place the backpack on the table and back into the straps to put them on. This is safe way to minimize potential back pain.
The old proverb *an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is still true, especially for our growing children. As chiropractors, we do treat many children suffering from low back and neck pain caused by backpacks that are too heavy or not worn properly. For more information on backpacks produced especially for kids, parents and teachers, check out the Pack it Light. Wear it Right Backpack Program provided by the College of Chiropractors of Alberta. Visit AlbertaChiro.com to find valuable information about wearing backpacks properly. By choosing the best type of backpack for your child, and monitoring how much he or she carries and how the contents are packed, you can help your child to avoid injuries, back and/or neck pain, and headaches.
For more information about children, ADD/ADHD, pregnancy, health and wellness, please visit Dr. Melanie's website drmelaniebee.org
Dr. Melanie Beingessner is a chiropractor, a breastfeeding counsellor, a certified infant massage instructor and the mother of three fabulous kids. She is the author of The Calm Baby Cookbook, written to help breastfeeding moms calm their fussy babies by changing their diets.
Dr. Melanie’s website provides information about pregnancy, breastfeeding, ADD/ADHD, chiropractic, health and wellness at drmelaniebee.org