Backpack Safety and Spinal Health
It is that time of year again where proud parents are watching their kids head off to their first day of a new school year.  They are well prepared for the day with notebooks and crayons packed up safely in the backpack.

But are you buying the right backpack to keep your child’s spine healthy?  Many of today’s backpacks are suited more for fashion than function. However it is important that children use backpacks properly by watching the weight of the pack and carrying it correctly.

A heavy or improperly used backpack can injure the back, neck and shoulders. Numbness in the arms and reduced blood flow to surrounding muscles and tissues can result.  Children will often alter their posture by hyperextending their back and rounding their shoulders to compensate for the heavy bag. These postures place added stress on the spine and muscles of the upper back and neck, leading to an increased risk of injury and fatigue.  Over time, the natural curves of our spine begin to change to accommodate the daily stress.

What can you do? 

Limit the weight of the back pack
Your child’s backpack should be no heavier than 15% of their body weight.  So a child weighing 50 pounds should carry no more than 7.5 pounds in their backpack and children weighing 100 pounds should carry no more than 15 pounds on their back.

Choosing the Right Backpack
It is important to pick a backpack that is proportional to the child’s size.  The back pack should rest between the shoulders and the hips and should not be wider than the child’s torso.  Light weight material should be chosen to keep the weight of the pack low.  Wide, padded shoulder straps help cushion the shoulders.  Backpacks are better than shoulder bags since the back and abdominal muscles are used to support the weight of the pack and the weight is distributed over both shoulders instead of just one.  A waist strap can redistribute as much as 50-70% of the weight off the shoulders and spine to the pelvis which allows the weight to be spread over a larger area.

Pack it right
Heavy items should be nearest to the body to keep the weight closer to your centre of gravity.  If there are individual compartments available, pack each side evenly.  This can distribute the weight of the load evenly and prevents items from shifting during movement.

Clean it out
Set aside a few moments each week to completely clean out the backpack.  You will be surprised what kids have tossed in there to bring back and forth to school with them.  Remove any unnecessary items that are weighing down the pack.  Once at school, children should be encouraged to use their desk or lockers to unload any material they will not need frequently throughout the day.

How do I know something is wrong?
A backpack should be easy to get on and off.  If you notice your child is struggling with this task, has indicated back, neck, shoulder pain, has to lean forward to carry the pack, complains of numbness or weakness in the arms or legs, it is important to speak with your child’s Chiropractor.

These simple tips will help you pick the right backpack for your child and are easy steps in maintaining a healthy spine!

Dr. Melissa Baird is a Chiropractor practicing at Glebe Chiropractic Clinic.  She can be contacted at (613) 237 – 9000, www.glebechiropractic.com More great tips can be found at Glebe Chiropractic on Facebook and @GlebeChiro on Twitter.