BACKPACKS CAN AFFECT YOUR CHILDREN’S HEALTH
by Dr. Kenny Chan
As summer ends and fall is approaching, the start of another school year begins. As we shop for new school supplies and new clothing, we must also keep in mind our children’s backpack. There are an alarming number of children putting their back at serious risk because they are improperly using backpacks. In the United States, figures showed that almost 60 percent of youths experience back pain by the end of their teen years. The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates 7,277 emergency room visits each year results from injuries related to book bags. In addition, reports also showed that backpack related injuries are up 330 percent since 1996.
Chiropractors are seeing more children having shoulder pain and upper and lower back pain. It appears that children’s backpack are getting bigger and heavier every year. Their teenage body are not developed enough to handle that kind of load and, thus, cause serious damage to a child’s health for a lifetime. Hauling a heavy backpack every day may cause serious postural misalignments. These postural imbalances can cause restrictions and inflammation in the spine and eventually neck and back pain, headaches and osteoarthritis. There are four area that parents can help in the management of their child’s backpack: buying, packing, lifting and carrying.
Buying the right kind of backpack is very important. Don’t buy the biggest backpack you can find – make sure the backpack is appropriate to your child’s size. Buy canvas or vinyl; leather is too heavy. Choose a backpack with a molded frame and/or adjustable hip strap, so that the weight of the filled backpack will rest on your child’s pelvis instead of their shoulders and spine. The shoulders straps should be adjustable and the rear of the backpack padded for comfort. And consider buying a backpack with built-in wheels.
In addition to buying the right kind of backpack, packing it correctly is also very important. The B.C. Chiropractic Association (BCCA) recommends that a filled backpacks should not exceed 10 to 15 percent of the child’s body weight. Put the heaviest items closer to the child’s back and bumpy or odd-shaped ones on the outside, away from the back. Make sure that items do not move around during walking, as this could upset your child’s center of gravity.
Furthermore, lifting and carrying techniques can also affect back pain. Adjust the shoulder straps so that the bottom of the backpack is just above the child’s waist and not over the buttocks. Do not carry the backpack over one shoulder. When fitted correctly, the backpack should contour snugly to the child’s back, rather than hang off their shoulders. Your child should lift the backpack with a straight back, using their arms and legs. If you child has to lean over, their backpack is too heavy, incorrectly fitted or wrongly packed. Try to fill the backpack at a table level height or get someone to help put it on.
If your child has a slouching problem (kyphosis), I highly recommend using a wheel backpack rather than a over the shoulder backpack. Using a over the shoulder backpack can increase slouching.
Lastly, encourage your child to store books in their school locker and only bring home those needed for homework. Instead of carrying textbooks home, photocopy relevant chapters. And regularly, ask your child if their backpack is causing fatique or pain.
The BCCA is presently promoting backpack safety awareness program called “Pack it Light, Wear it Right.” An activity booklet and background information materials can be downloaded from the BCCA website: http://www.bcchiro.com/bcca/your-spine-your-health/health-tips/school-backpack-program.html
(www.bcchiro.com).Questions can also be directed to Dr. Kenny Chan at 604-739-2118.