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Backpacks – Not Your Spine’s Best Friend
Ah, the new school year has arrived! Every kid’s back-to-school must-have list includes a new backpack. Although backpacks come in many different styles, colors, and sizes, they all have one thing in common: they are bad for your child’s spine. According to a 1998 article in the prestigious scientific journal Spine, when the young adult graduated from high school, he experienced at least one bout of back pain due in part to improper backpack use.
Children carry too much weight on their backs. In fact, a backpack can easily weigh up to 20 pounds. Such pressure on a child’s back during early adolescence can lead to premature degeneration of the spine. But how can backpacks cause so much damage? Backpacks cause postural shifts, which can then lead to shifts in spinal alignment. Dislocations of the vertebrae of the spine are called vertebral subluxations (aka vertebral subluxation complex). Vertebral subluxations can lead to back and neck pain, muscle tension, muscle imbalance/asymmetry, decreased range of motion, and early degeneration and arthritic changes in the spine.
When a child carries a load hanging from one shoulder (say, the right side) with a backpack, he bends over to the opposite side. As a result, other areas of the body also compensate for the weight imbalance. Further compensations cause muscles to work harder on one side of the body than the other. Take this scenario and repeat it weekly, daily, or monthly, and it’s easy to see how this situation can become a big problem. Likewise, look at your child from the side when he is putting on his bag. You’ll quickly notice how their head tilts forward, compensating for the extra strain on their spine.
As chiropractors who focus on structural adjustments to the spine, we are now seeing more and more children and teenagers with neck and back pain. Parents often do not realize that the child’s spine is still in the development stage. Given that the human spine is much more stable in the post-mid-teens, it’s easy to see how unnecessary pressure on the spine during adolescence and young adulthood can leave a permanent scar (not unlike leaving marks on wet cement). ). Unfortunately, spinal cord injury at such a young age can lead to debilitating pain and early arthritic changes that become apparent in later years.
What can we do to prevent back injuries from using backpacks? Recommendations from America’s Backpack Safety® program include tips for buying backpacks and proper carrying techniques:
1. Make sure your backpack has straps. The belt serves as a stabilizing device when the belt is attached to the waist.
2. The backpack should have a structurally reinforced base. This avoids unwanted effects that are usually found in cheaper models.
3. When preparing to put on the backpack, have the child face the backpack as you lift it over your shoulder.
4. Next, kneel down and use your legs (not your back) to lift your backpack (always lift with your feet).
5. Slide one of the child’s arms under the straps and fasten both straps comfortably over the shoulder.
6. Finally, make sure that all the straps are adjusted so that the backpack fits snugly against the body.
As mentioned above, vertebral subluxation complex (vsc) is a condition in which the spine is forced out of its normal position. The consequences are much more than neck and back pain. Flip through any anatomy book and you’ll see that the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system) are connected to every cell, tissue, gland, and organ in the body by 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 optimal nervous system function.
My favorite backpack company is Airpacks. They are stylish and relieve stress and weight on the spine thanks to extra padding and air pockets on the straps and back.
Chiropractors who focus on structural correction of the spine and vertebral subluxation complex (vsc) use a chiropractic method called Clinical Biomechanics of Posture. CBP is a corrective modality that is not part of the standard curriculum at any chiropractic college in the world. CBP physicians are committed to extensive postgraduate training in the biomechanics and biophysics of the spine. CBP is backed by more peer-reviewed research in scientific (medical) journals than any other chiropractic method.
When parents bring their children to many chiropractic practices, they do a very thorough structured evaluation. In addition to offering structural corrective care, they go the extra mile by providing education to help families implement proper postural habits that prevent further damage to the spine and inhibit the development of vertebral subluxation complex. In our experience, we believe that health is the greatest gift any parent can give to their child. Since health and wellness depend on a properly functioning nervous system, the benefits of structural corrective chiropractic care are easy to understand.
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