-- by Erica Sastre, LMT
A: The answer is… Probably!
Let’s be honest, most of the time the answer is yes. Even if it is not the root cause of your back pain, wearing a backpack incorrectly can seriously worsen other conditions such as disc herniation, scoliosis, hip and shoulder disorders. Most people wear backpacks improperly, or are overloading their backs.
How heavy are our backpacks?
“Researchers visited three New York City schools and weighed more than 50 children’s backpacks. They found that kids in the 2nd and 4th grades are carrying about 5 pounds worth of homework and books. But once kids reach the 6th grade, the homework load gets heavier. On average, 6th graders in the study were carrying backpacks weighing 18.4 pounds, although some backpacks weighed as much as 30 pounds.”
School books are just the beginning of spinal stress for students, most of whom are doing extracurricular activities. Imagine a 30 pound backpack, a tuba, a poster board presentation, and a soccer bag that all need to be transported to and from school! How heavy is ‘too’ heavy?
“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that a child’s backpack weigh no more than 10 to 20 percent of a child’s weight.”
Yikes, textbooks add up fast! Most parents are not checking to see if their kids backpacks are weighing too much, and few students are self monitoring their posture or the weight they are carrying. They merely accept whatever the coarse-load demands of them. In addition these same students spend a lot of time studying at a desk or computer, most of their day encourages a slouched, leaning forward posture.
Schools are slowly changing with the times, some students have options to have electronic books, or share books at school so they don’t need to carry so much. Each situation is different, but most still need to carry all their books, and do their best.
The WRONG way to wear Backpacks
The Correct Way to Wear a Backpack
Notice how the spine is straight, shoulders are even, hips are even. The straps are used so that weight is evenly distributed between the hips and torso! This is the part that most kids want to skip, but if you look at climbers, hikers, military, they all use straps with their packs to distribute the load properly, this helps them move more freely and prevent injury!
Why is this so important?
Most students spine are in the process of growing! Teens are experiencing their growth spurt, some don’t finish growing until their 20’s so this concern even applies to college students.
The spine is supposed to be extending upwards as it grows There is a normal amount of curvature within the spine, but not too much (which is called Kyphosis in the thoracic spine and Lordosis in the lumbar spine). Nor is it supposed to grow into a twist, or a side-to side bend (Scoliosis).
If we load up the back, and twist the spine because of weight, every single day, over time we are encouraging the spine to grow in a curve or twist. It much more difficult to correct posture later in life.
What can we do if our children seem to be suffering from posture problems related to their backpack?
1) Lighten the load. Two sets of textbooks, electronic textbooks, sharing books with friends. Talk to teachers and administrators to work out viable solution for your child and the other students!
2) Corrective stretches and exercises, as well as regular participation in activities that encourage correct posture and body mechanics such as yoga, dance, martial arts & climbing are all great examples.
Stay tuned for next weeks Q&A! If you have any questions yourself, please feel free to send in your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources and further reading:
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