The back-to-school season is full of changes: in our routines, schedules, and activities. Those changes bring with them a host of stressors, so when your child started complaining of shoulder and neck pain this week, you didn’t really think much of it. But today, when he got out of the car for school, he hefted his backpack out of the back seat like a sack of potatoes, tossed one strap across his shoulder, and leaned forward like a weatherman leaning into gale-force winds as he walked. Then you began to wonder- could his backpack be causing his shoulder and neck pain?
The answer is yes.
It’s a common issue that sends 5,000 children to the emergency room each year. In addition, more than 14,000 kids are treated for backpack-related injuries every year. An overweight backpack causes the body to compensate for the extra weight, distorting the natural curve of the middle and lower back, causing muscle strain. Most people compensate for the heavy weight by leaning forward. This forward trunk lean rounds the upper back and causes forward head posture, leading to neck pain and shoulder and arm issues. Hips can become sore because of the forward lean, and knee pain may develop due to a change in the walking pattern.
So what can you do? The American Chiropractic Association offers several tips for mitigating injuries caused by overloaded backpacks. Here are the top six:
Keep it Light
It seems like a simple solution, but it isn’t as easy as it sounds. The current recommendation for determining the weight limit is that your child’s backpack should weigh no more than 10 percent of their body weight. For reference, a 120 lb teenager should carry a backpack that weighs no more than 12 lbs. The average weight for a high schooler’s backpack is closer to 25 lbs. If your child is experiencing back pain and you can’t lighten the load, check with your school administrator. They may allow for a set of books to be kept at home and a set they can use at school so your child doesn’t have to carry as many books back and forth.
Get the Right Size
A backpack should never hang more than four inches below the waistline and should be no wider than the child’s shoulders. The top of the backpack should fall even with shoulder blades.
Wear it Right
Make sure your child is using both shoulder straps when wearing their backpack. Hauling a heavy backpack around using one shoulder strap causes a posture to shift to one side and puts strain on the muscles.
Get Padded for Comfort
Wide, padded straps are crucial. Non-padded straps can dig into the shoulders and cause nerve interference and loss of circulation. The shoulder straps should also be adjustable so that the backpack can be fitted to your child’s body. Chest and hip straps are great things to look for as well and help stabilize the backpack on the back.
Distribute the Weight
Individualized compartments and pockets help pack items more effectively. Make sure to put heavier, bulkier items in the back center of the backpack and make certain items are secured within the backpack, so they don’t shift. Also, pack pointy objects away from the child’s back, so they stay comfortable.
Rollerpacks Don’t Rock
Backpacks on wheels seem like a perfect solution to the issue, right? But, unfortunately, there are some contingencies to think about, and the ACA actually recommends that rollerpacks be “used cautiously and on a limited basis by only those students who are not physically able to carry a backpack.” In addition, some school districts no longer allow rollerpacks because of the hazards they cause in the hallways.
The need to carry items to school isn’t going away anytime soon. And while many school districts are trying to lighten the load by using digital textbooks and technology, our kids are still, literally, carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. Ensuring that the load is as light as it can be is vital to the health of their body. Regular chiropractic adjustments can help ease any discomfort and keep the body in healthy alignment in the meantime. At Vitality, we make it a priority to keep the whole family in optimal health. Schedule your consultation today!