September usually stands out as the end of summer and beginning of a brand new school year. More and more information is being taught at an earlier level which has been leading to an increase in homework load requiring the carrying of large, heavy books. This increase in backpack weight pulls backwards on kids causing them to make abnormal postural changes to try to compensate for the weight and to prevent themselves from falling over. This puts extra stress on young developing spines and may lead to neck and back pain. The increased weight of the books can also cause the straps to affect muscles, nerves, and blood vessels that may cause tingling or numbness in the limbs. With these things to be aware of, what steps can you encourage your young ones to take to prevent pain and injury?
Lighten the load! – Making sure that only the necessary books are being carried around is a good first step. Encourage kids to make frequent locker stops so that the weight of the backpack never exceeds 10-15% of their body weight. Cleaning out the backpacks weekly will also limit unnecessary weight. If more books are required, have your young students carry the excess in their arms to help distribute weight better. Good tip: Purchase a smaller backpack to prevent over-stuffing!
Distribute the load evenly! – Make sure that heavier books are placed towards the back of the backpack so that they are closest to your child’s back with smaller items tucked into the front pocket compartments. With the heavier weight towards the center of gravity, kids can better handle the load.
Proper wearing! – Despite the current “cool” trend, wearing both straps over the shoulders will help distribute the weight more evenly and avoid further abnormal compensations for heavy backpacks. Another big piece in proper backpack wearing, is the location of the backpack on the back. The bottom of the backpack should fall in the middle of the curve of the lower back and should absolutely never fall lower than 4″ below the child’s waistline. Taking the time to explain to kids that wearing their backpack properly will help prevent pain later on can be difficult but it is certainly worth the effort. Good tip: Look to use a backpack that has wider, padded straps which are adjustable to achieve the proper height and to avoid cutting into the shoulders!
Lift with the legs! – It is also important to be aware of how your young student puts their backpack on. Helping them to realize proper lifting techniques by bending at the knees and not at the waist can help decrease the risk of injury.
Look to go digital! – With the increase in availability of lightweight tablets and e-books, looking into digital options to replace heavy textbooks may be an option especially if your student is required to purchase their own textbooks. Check your school’s policies and if you get the okay, look into sites like Amazon Textbook Rental, Coursesmart.com, and Apple iBooks Textbooks. Having to only carry around a small tablet can significantly reduce the weight your student may have to carry.
By following these easy steps, you as a parent can help protect the spine of your children!
Dr. Lee Angle
Dr. Lee Angle is originally from southern West Virginia. After having his life changed through Upper Cervical Care he chose to pursue it as a career. He has been practicing Upper Cervical Chiropractic for over nine years. Dr. Angle previously worked as a certified personal trainer. This background allows him to educate his patients on proper movement and exercises to speed their recovery and enhance their Upper Cervical Care.