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Backpacks: Wear it Right

Young boy wearing a red backpackThe incidence of childhood back and neck pain is on the rise. In the first part of this three-part series, I discussed the role that backpacks are playing and how lightening the load of your child’s backpack is a simple strategy to help protect their developing spines.

Once the safe amount of carrying weight has been established the next factor to consider is the proper fit. How your child wears their backpack can have a huge effect on their spine. For instance, when children wear their backpacks on one shoulder it can create a disproportionate load which can lead to neck and muscle spasms, postural changes, spinal curvatures and low back pain. These spinal stresses can accumulate over the school years leading to chronic problems in adulthood that become harder to fix. As Benjamin Franklin so wisely stated “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and this couldn’t be truer when it comes to spinal health. Here are a few tips to make sure your child’s backpack is not a pain in the back now or in the future.

Backpack Fit Tips:

schoolboy outdoors on sunny day

  • Keep the total weight of the backpack within 10-15% of your child’s body weight.
  • Do not let the backpack hang more than four inches below the waistline. A backpack that hangs too low increases the weight on the shoulders which will cause your child to lean forward when walking (putting more stress on the low back and pelvis).
  • Carry the pack on both shoulders and look for a backpack that has wide and padded straps for comfort.
  • Make sure the backpacks shoulder straps are adjustable and tighten them so the backpack fits snugly to your child’s body. Loose straps can cause the pack to dangle uncomfortably and can cause spinal misalignment and pain.
  • Wear chest and waist straps. This will help distribute the weight evenly throughout the spine.
  • Make sure you can slide your hand between the backpack and your child’s back.

Some Extra Tips on Packing:

  • Pack pointy or bulky objects away from the area that will rest on your child’s back and pack the heaviest objects close to the body.
  • If your bag has compartments, use them to pack more efficiently and to distribute weight.
  • Bigger isn’t always better – remember the bigger the pack, the more they will carry and the heavier the bag will be.

More than fifty percent of young people experience at least one episode of lower back pain by their teenage years. Research indicates that this could be caused, to a great extent, by improper use of backpacks.

If your child does complain of back pain and numbness or weakness in his or her arms and legs it’s important to get checked by your local chiropractor to prevent future problems. I offer complimentary backpack fit sessions and would be happy to check your child’s backpack to make sure it is a proper fit. To book click here.

Stay tuned next week for the final article in this series where I share my favourite backpacks!

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