Backpack safety is a growing concern among parents. School aged children are carrying heavier and heavier loads on their backs each year. Textbooks, lunches and gym clothes make for an overstuffed pack and can cause damage to a child’s developing spine.
The normal position for the human spine should be a straight line from the front and, three curves from the side. There should be two C-shaped curves in the neck, and low back, and a reverse C in the mid back. Each of those curves should measure 45 degrees as an arc.
When the spine is in its normal position, it provides stability and strength, loads are distributed evenly, and there is minimal pressure on the spinal column and spinal cord.
However, a heavy backpack forces a forward shift in body weight causing the head to project out in front of the shoulders. This will straighten the natural curve in the neck and, in the long term, can lead to poor posture, headaches and neck pain. For every inch forward that the head projects, it feels like an extra 10 pounds to your body. Ouch!
This forward posture can place additional pressure on the discs in the lower back. Many of the lower back problems we see in children can be directly attributed to heavy backpacks.
So what can parents do to improve backpack safety and prevent these spinal problems in children? Here’s are some simple backpack tips that can help:
• Look for backpacks with wide, padded shoulder straps. Narrow straps dig painfully into shoulders and can hinder circulation, causing numbness or tingling in the arms, which over time may cause weakness in the hands.
• Choose backpacks with a waist or chest strap. This will help keep the load close to the body and help maintain proper balance.
• Look for backpacks with built-in lower back support. This will look like extra padding in the low back that will support the lumbar curve.
• Make sure the backpack is not too heavy. A good rule to follow is to never carry more than 10 to 15% of one’s body weight.
• Consider purchasing a backpack with wheels. They may not look the coolest, but they are the best solution for this problem. Your child might even start a trend at their school!
Dr. Christian Chatzoglou, D.C. is a chiropractor, writer and natural health expert.