Before you buy this year’s backpack, make sure your child’s back can carry it.
Is your child suffering from unexpected headaches or back pain? Do they stand or walk hunched over with their head looking down?
It may just be from carrying a backpack laden with books…
With school fast approaching, let’s take a few moments to discuss how that backpack can have negative consequences leading to long term effects on a child’s health and academic experience encompassing everything from mild continual headaches to damage to the spine. “The extra weight that some students carry on their backs combined with improper mechanics can cause enormous strain to the spine not unlike that seen with athletic injuries.” According to Tamara A. Topoleski, M.D., board certified Orthopedic Surgeon with a specialty in pediatrics at Orlando Orthopedic Center.
As adults we worry about what we feed our children, how much exercise they get, do our best to ensure their safety in sports, but don’t really think about backpacks as an issue. And that’s probably because we have neglected to identify this issue for ourselves. Many of us use backpacks or messenger bags to carry such things as laptops, files and battery packs. I too, am familiar with this normality. As a U.S. Marine, I was required to carry an average of 90 lbs on my back for miles at a time as part of combat training. Today’s youth are not training for combat and yet they are carrying between 15-22% of their bodyweight in their backpack. That is equivalent to carrying an average of 25 lbs on their backs and we are expecting them to do this 5 times per week for 9 months of the year without “training”?
That’s just crazy!
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that there are over 7,200 emergency room visits each year attributed to backpacks, many students suffer shoulder, neck and back pain. (A study of backpack users 11-15 years old determined that 64% complained of back pain.) Constant mild pain is detrimental to academic focus, the ability to learn and can be signs of long term physical consequences.
Most physicians and therapists agree that no child should carry more than 10% of their body weight. In fact, many agree that carrying just 5% of your weight incorrectly can negatively impact the body causing abnormal curvature of the spine leading to improper balance, stability, performance and gait.
What can YOU do to mitigate this issue?
1. Select the right backpack.
Backpacks should have 2 wide straps that allow for better displacement of weight across the back allowing the shoulders to move freely and be comfortable when loaded with weight or books. Technically a waist stap also helps, but in reality kids aren’t going to use one.
2. Wear and Use
Backpacks need to be worn correctly with straps secure around the shoulders and hands holding the straps with elbows back. This hand and elbow positioning will allow the shoulder blades to retract, placing the body in a more conducive posture when walking.
Once you have selected the right equipment and know how to use it, the child’s back needs to be strengthened. We’ve put together a group of “Backpack” exercises, exercises that just use your body weight and your backpack.
The following exercises should be implemented 2 to 3 times per week for maximum benefit.
Active Dynamic Warm Up - 8-10 minutes
Benefit: Warm up the body, increase circulation and activate the Central Nervous System
Benefit: Increase Lower body strength and endurance whilst mimicking actual every day movements
Chin Up Hold (Add Progression if needed)
Push Up & Push Up Hold
Benefits: Increase Upper body strength and stability leading to greater posture and confidence
Planks (Prone & Lateral)
Benefit: Increase lower back, pelvis and hip strength without excessive movement