School has recently resumed and we have all seen the very cute, tiny kindergarten kids, heading off to school with their HUGE backpacks.
They will spend the next 13 years at school lugging around this backpack, stuffed with everything from computers, textbooks, sporting clothes, lunch and who knows whatever else they can squeeze in!
Have you ever stopped to think about what this is doing to their bodies?
This month we will look at the importance a well fitted backpack and ways you can help take the load off their developing bodies and spines.
Many long lasting adult back issues can actually stem from childhood activities, which can include carrying an ill fitted backpack during school years.
As we have discussed previously, your hips and pelvis are the foundation for your body. Their job is to direct force through the hip angles into our sacrum, which is built to take the load so that it can be distributed evenly through our bodies. However, if we add a heavy, incorrectly fitted backpack, the forces through our hips can dramatically change and cause long lasting problems.
The tips and information in this article aren’t just for school children. Most of us take a bag to work, school or uni and we can all take this advice to make the life of our backs a little easier.
In 2011, an ‘under cover’ observational study was conducted on high traffic school commute routes. The findings were not good. 90% of students had poor posture while carrying their bags and 75% were not carrying their bags correctly (1).
This suggests that we are setting up these children to a life of ongoing back problems.
It is important for all of us to make sure we pass this message through to our children.
To begin with, backpacks are much better for our bodies then shoulder bags, messenger bags and purses because when used correctly, they utilise the strongest muscles in the body – the back and the abdominal muscles – to support the weight of the packs.
They are also designed to have the extra gravitational force stay close to the body, so that they can be directed through our hip angles correctly.
However, if the weight of the bag is too heavy or used incorrectly, the weight that is placed on the shoulders can force a child to go backwards. To stop from this happening, a child may need to bend forward at the hips or arch their back.
This will not only compress the little child’s spine but it also changes the angles of the hips which can affect how they are functioning and possibly lead to longer lasting problems.
To make things worse, many children wear their bags only on one shoulder. This may look cool or even feel better, but the damage this can cause to their developing bodies can be quite dramatic.
We are designed to be symmetrical throughout our bodies. If we add a heavy load to one side we need to lean our whole body to compensate. This again changes how the force is going through our hips, compressing one side and rotating the other.
As you can imagine, doing this 5 days a week for 13 years can lead to a life time of back issues.
Here is a list of tips and ideas that will help stop this happening.
Tips on picking the right bag
Price is important – Don’t try and save money on buying the biggest bag possible, you need to make sure the bag is the right size for your child at the size they are now. However buying the most expansive is not always correct either, it needs to be right for your child.
2 wide, padded shoulder straps – Backpacks with tight, narrow straps that dig into the shoulders can interfere with circulation and nerves. These types of straps can contribute to tingling, numbness and weakness in the arms and hands. The straps should be tight enough for the backpack to fit closely to the body. The pack should rest evenly in the middle of the back and not sag down to the buttocks.
A padded molded back with an adjustable hip strap – The backing of the bag should fit to the curves of the child’s spine to distribute the weight. Also the hip strap is so important to make sure the weight is going through the hips and pelvis and not loading the spine itself. The padded back not only provides increased comfort, but also protects kids from being poked by sharp edges on objects inside the pack
Let the child have a say!! – You can buy the perfect bag for your child, however if they don’t like it or think it is uncool they will not use it correctly and you have just wasted your money and jeopardized the health of their small spines. It is important to educate your child on the importance of these features and then allow them to choose things like color and style if they fit the above criteria.
Tips on using backpacks correctly
Lighten the load – no matter how well designed the backpack is, if it is too heavy for the child using it, it will cause problems. Bags should be no heavy then 10% of the child’s weight. If a child weighs 30kg the bag should not be heavier then 3kg!!!
Pack the bag correctly – Heavy items such as computers and textbooks should be closest to the child’s back. If the heavier items are packed further away from the body, it will throw out the child’s centre of gravity and will affect how the hips are loading the rest of the spine. Lighter and unusual shaped items should be packed further away from the back.
Pick up the bag correctly – backpacks should be considered a weight and not just flung onto the shoulders. At a young age it is important to teach children how to lift correctly by using their knees with a straight back and to grab the bag with both hands. If possible use chairs, desks or a bench etc. to lift the bag up onto and then put on the shoulders one at a time as to not twist their spines.
Close all zippers – If the zippers aren’t closed the force isn’t being distributed correctly.
Don’t take unnecessary items – only pack books, computers, clothing etc. that is needed for that day. Technology is now playing a huge role in how our children learn at school. Many text books these day have either CD versions or online versions that can be used. At the start of the term see if this option is available and then the books can be either left at home or school and making use of the electronic version reduces carrying heavy books back and forth.
Warning signs of an incorrect backpack – signs to look for include: the child changing their posture when the bag is on, struggling to put the bag on or take it off, pain when wearing the bag, any tingling or numbness in their arms or any red marks on their shoulders. If you notice any of these, the bag needs to be changed immediately.
It is also important to make sure that your child’s body is in correct working order to be able to handle the load of the bag.
If there is already an existing issue or dysfunction with their hips or pelvis, even the best fitting, perfect bag will cause problems because their structure is affected before the bag is even being used!
Making sure your children are checked by the practitioners at Spinal Symmetry is an important aspect in your child’s skeletal development. During their consultation, feel free to bring their school bags in so that you and your children can discuss any aspect of their bags including fitting them correctly, with any of our practitioners.
Prevention of injuries is much easier then trying to resolve them later on.