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Dr. Corinne Weaver: Back-to-School Alert; Help Your Children Avoid Pain and Health Problems from Carrying Too-Heavy Backpacks

Dr. Corinne Weaver : Aug 23, 2019

When a heavy backpack is incorrectly placed on the shoulders, the weight's force can pull a child backward. To compensate, the child might bend forward at their hips or arch their back. This can make the spine compress unnaturally, leading to shoulder, neck, and back pain.

It's here ... school's back! (Image: Pixabay)

This year my kids will be going to 3 different schools. My oldest is a senior in high school, my middle is a 6th grader at a middle school, and my youngest is going into 5th grade and will be homeschooled. Raising children is an adventure and I am on the ride of my life. Since I have been in practice I have seen many kids with back issues that are backpack-related so today, I want to discuss how to find a safe backpack, some alternatives, how to use your backpack wisely, what kids and what adults can do to help!!

Many factors can contribute to back pain—sports injury, poor posture while sitting, and long periods of inactivity. Another culprit, lugging around an entire lockers' worth of books, school supplies, and personal items all day long.

An MRI Study found that heavy backpacks contribute to back pain in children. The problem isn't necessarily with the actual bag, but the weight being carried around. Here's the study if you want to take a look for yourself.

The limit on how heavy your child's backpack should be

It's not a common practice to actually weigh one's backpack. However, The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that your child's backpack never weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of your child's body weight. Many students are carrying heavier weight than this on a daily basis.

When a heavy backpack is incorrectly placed on the shoulders, the weight's force can pull a child backward. To compensate, the child might bend forward at their hips or arch their back. This can make the spine compress unnaturally, leading to shoulder, neck, and back pain.

The spine isn't all that's in jeopardy. Over time, the soft tissue around the spine, such as supporting structures like ligaments and paraspinal muscles that attach to the spine, suffer a decreased range of motion.

Improper backpack use can lead to bad posture over time. Also, backpacks with tight, narrow straps that dig into the shoulders can interfere with circulation and nerves leading to tingling, numbness, and weakness in the arms and hands.

Other health hazards from carrying heavy backpacks

Some other issues posed by heavy backpacks include:

-Kids who carry large backpacks often aren't aware of how much space the packs take up and can hit others when turning around or moving through tight spaces, such as the aisles of a school bus.

-Students can be injured if they trip over large backpacks or one falls on them.

-Carrying a heavy backpack changes the way kids walk and puts them at risk of falling, particularly on stairs or other places where a backpack puts a student off balance.

Tips for choosing the right backpack

Despite problems they can cause, when used properly, backpacks can be helpful.

Before making a purchase, here are some tips to help choose the right one:

  • Look for a lightweight backpack that doesn't add a lot of weight to your child's load.
  • Consider the material used, for example, leather packs look cool, but they weigh more than canvas backpacks.
  • Consider the straps. Wide, padded shoulder straps are ideal. Straps that are too narrow can dig into shoulders and lead to issues.
  • Find one with a padded back to provide increased comfort, as well as protection from being poked by sharp objects or edges such as pencils, rulers, notebooks, etc.
  • A backpack with a waist belt and multiple compartments help to distribute the weight more evenly across the body and throughout the backpack itself.
  • It can be tempting to consider a backpack or small, overhead luggage bag with wheels. However, keep in mind, they're very hard to pull up stairs and to roll through snow.
  • You'll also want to check with the school before buying a rolling pack. Many don't allow them because they can be a tripping hazard in the hallways.
  • No matter how well-designed the backpack, less weight is always better. Use the bathroom scale to check that a pack isn't over 10% to 15% of your child's body weight. For example, the backpack of a child who weighs 80 pounds shouldn't weigh more than 8 to 12 pounds.

Correct placement of backpacks

The use of both straps is crucial for preventing injury. Bags that are slung over the shoulder or across the chest—or that only have one strap—aren't as effective at distributing the weight as bags with two wide shoulder straps, and therefore may strain muscles. Straps should also be tightened 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 lot of the responsibility for packing lightly — and safely — rests with kids. Teach them to pack the heaviest books first and closest to your back, and only to bring home what they need in order to complete homework.

Encourage kids to use their locker or desk often throughout the day instead of carrying the entire day's worth of books in their backpack. You can work with your child to develop a strategy to map out more locker time. Ideally, he or she could switch out books before the first class, on the way to or out of lunch, on the way to a class, and at the end of the day. Make sure kids don't tote unnecessary items — laptops, toys, and video games can add extra pounds to a pack. To avoid carrying around unnecessary weight, make sure to utilize various compartments to help distribute content weight evenly, and have your child clean out their backpack regularly.

Get schools involved

Some ways the school can get involved include:

-giving students more time between classes to use lockers

-using paperback books

-adding school education programs about safe backpack use

-putting some curriculum on the school's website, when possible

Signs your child's backpack is too heavy

  • Keep an eye out for the following signs indicating your child's backpack is too heavy:
  • They struggle to get the backpack on or off.
  • They lean forward when carrying the backpack.
  • They complain of shoulder, neck, or back pain, or numbness or weakness in the arms or legs.

Text neck and what to do if your child complains of head/neck/shoulder/back pain

Another common issue we've come across in recent years is what we call text neck. The downward bent position of the head caused by looking down at smart devices causes a major strain on the base of the neck. This can equate to an additional 60 pounds of pressure being placed on the neck!

Most people don't realize that chiropractic care can help people of all ages!

According to the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners, more than 17 percent of all chiropractic patients are under the age of 18 in the United States. Preventive care early on in life will set children up for a lifetime of health and well-being. If your child complains about back, neck, or shoulder pain, certainly consider how heavy his or her school bag is, make adjustments, and don't hesitate to discuss this issue with your general practitioner or reach out to your local chiropractor.

My mission is to help you get healthier without needing more medications. Join here to get my FREE ebook and join the INNER Circle if you want accountability to take action for your health.

By joining this circle, you have the unique opportunity to ask questions and share personal experiences while engaging with like-minded individuals and gaining the support of health professionals who are experts in health and wellness.

I am looking forward to Showing Up more in your life and Serving you Better!! Don't forget to Listen to the No More Meds Podcast and join the No More Meds Movement with me. Subscribe for free to Breaking Christian News here


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Ortho Info 

Keep Breathing,
Dr. Corinne Weaver 


Dr. Corinne Weaver is a compassionate upper cervical chiropractor, educator, motivational speaker, mother of three, and internationally bestselling author. In 2004, she founded the Upper Cervical Wellness Center in Indian Trail, North Carolina. Over the last 13 years, she has helped thousands of clients restore their brain to-body function. When she was 10 years old, she lost her own health as the result of a bike accident that led to having asthma and allergy issues that she thought she would always have to endure. Then, after her first upper cervical adjustment at age 21, her health began to improve thanks to upper cervical care and natural herbal remedies. This enabled her to create a drug-free wellness lifestyle for herself and her family, and she also enthusiastically discovered her calling to help children heal naturally.

Dr. Weaver was named one of Charlotte Magazine's "Top Doctors" in 2016 and is now a number-one internationally bestselling author to two books: Learning How to Breathe and No More Meds. 

Upper Cervical Wellness Center is known for finding the root cause of health concerns through lifestyle changes, diagnostic testing, nutraceutical supplementation, and correction of subluxation (as opposed to just medicating the symptoms). The practice offers cutting-edge technological care at its state-of-the-art facility, including laser-aligned upper cervical X-rays, bioimpedance analysis (measures body composition), digital thermography (locates thermal abnormalities characterized by skin inflammation), and complete nutritional blood analysis, which is focused on disease prevention.

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