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Backpacks – Not Your Spine’s Best Friend
Ah, the new school year is here! At the top of every child’s school supplies list is a new backpack. Although backpacks vary in style, color and size, they all have one thing in common: they are bad for your child’s spine. According to an article in the 1998 edition of the prestigious scientific journal Spine, by the time a young adult has graduated from high school, he or she has experienced at least one episode of back pain, which is due in part to improper backpack use.
Children carry excessive weight on their backs. In fact, a backpack can easily weigh over 20 pounds. Such pressure on a child’s back during early adolescence can lead to premature degeneration of the spine. But how do backpacks cause so much damage? Backpacks cause changes in posture, which can cause changes in spinal alignment. Vertebral displacements of the spine are called vertebral subluxations (aka vertebral subluxation complex). Vertebral subluxations can cause back and neck pain, muscle tension, muscle imbalance/asymmetry, reduced range of motion, and early spinal degeneration and arthritic changes.
When a child walks with a loaded backpack hanging from one shoulder (say, the right side), he compensates by leaning in the opposite direction. As a result, other parts of the body compensate for the weight imbalance. As a result of the additional compensation, the muscles work much harder on one side of the body compared to the other. Take this scenario and repeat it weekly, daily, or monthly, and it’s easy to see how this situation can become a serious problem. Similarly, look at your child from the side while he is carrying the backpack. You will quickly notice how their head is pushed forward, again compensating for the excess stress being placed on their spine.
As chiropractors who focus on structural correction of the spine, we are now seeing more children and young adults with severe neck and back pain. Parents often don’t realize that the child’s spine is still in the developing stage. Considering that the human spine becomes much more stable during adolescence and later adolescence, it is easy to see how unnecessary pressure placed on the spine during the pre-adolescent and adolescent years can leave a permanent scar (not unlike a footprint in wet cement). Unfortunately, spinal damage at such a young age is likely to cause debilitating pain and early arthritic changes that will be most pronounced in later years.
So how do you prevent back damage from backpacking? Recommendations according to Backpack Safety America® include advice on purchasing backpacks and proper lifting techniques:
1. Make sure your backpack has waist straps. The waist belt serves as a means of stabilization when attached around the waist.
2. The backpack must have a structurally reinforced base. This will prevent unnecessary sagging, which is usually found in cheaper models.
3. When the child is about to put on the backpack, lift him onto your shoulders with his face towards the backpack.
4. Then have them kneel, squat, and use their legs (not their backs) to lift their backpacks (always lift with their legs).
5. Have the child slide one arm at a time under the straps, comfortably securing both straps around the shoulders.
6. Finally, make sure that all straps are adjusted so that the backpack fits snugly against your body.
As mentioned above, a vertebral subluxation complex (vsc) is a condition where the spine is forced out of its normal alignment. The effects are far more extensive than just neck and back pain. Flip through any anatomy book and you’ll see that the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system) communicate with every cell, tissue, gland, and organ in the body via nerves that exit the spine. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that changes in spinal alignment can easily interfere with the optimal functioning of the nervous system.
My favorite backpack company is Airpacks. They are modern and much better for the spine thanks to the extra padding and air pockets in the straps and lower back, reducing stress and weight on the spine.
Chiropractors who focus on structural correction of the spine and spinal subluxation complex (vsc) practice a chiropractic technique called postural clinical biomechanics. CBP is a corrective method that is not part of the standard curriculum at any chiropractic college worldwide. CBP physicians undertake extensive postgraduate studies in the areas of spinal biomechanics and biophysics. CBP is based on more peer-reviewed research in scientific (medical) journals than any other chiropractic technique.
When parents take their children to many chiropractic practices, they do a very thorough structural assessment. In addition to offering structural corrective care, they go the extra mile by providing education to help families establish proper postural habits that will prevent further spinal damage and prevent the development of vertebral subluxation complex. In our practice, we believe that the greatest gift any parent can give their child is the gift of health. Since health and wellness depend on a properly functioning nervous system, it is easy to understand the benefits of structural corrective chiropractic care.
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