Dr. Michele Imossi - Chiropractic Physician
Back Pack Tips

Shopping for school supplies can be a fun and exciting time of year, but choosing the right back pack is not child’s play. Back pack injuries send over 7,000 children a year to the emergency room, and back pack usage is strongly associated with the rising incidence of childhood back pain.  According to statistics, the average child will suffer at least one episode of low back pain by the end of their teens.  When a heavy load is distributed unevenly to a developing spine over and over again, muscles are repetitively strained, discs are compressed, joints are sprained and abnormal spinal curvatures can develop. These are things that even Superman can’t correct! To appreciate the gravity of the problem, consider this: If a child lifts a 12 pound back pack (a conservative estimate) 10 times during the day for 180 school days of the year, the child will have lifted 21,600 lbs for the year! (That equals almost 11 tons or the weight of 6 cars.)   Furthermore, back packs often impair balance and mobility, increasing the risk of falls and hampering a child’s ability to perform such simple tasks as climbing stairs and opening doors. Heavy back packs tend to also increase fatigue and blood pressure. The restrictive effects of a heavy back pack on the rib cage can even reduce a child’s lung capacity and compromise breathing.      Back packs are not inherently bad, and they are better than shoulder bags for carrying books. When used properly, back packs are designed to allow the strongest muscles of the body (the low back, hips and abdominal muscles) to support the weight of the load.  Problems occur when packs are improperly sized, packed, lifted or carried - any of which can cause the shifting of weight to the more vulnerable areas of the neck, shoulders, upper back, chest and ribs.  Younger children, smaller sized children and girls are more susceptible to back pack related complaints. Protect the current and future health of your child by adhering to the following back pack guidelines:  
1.)   Choose a sturdy and appropriately sized back pack for your child.  Bigger is not necessarily better.  Larger packs promote overloading.
 2.)   Adjust the shoulder straps so that the bottom of the back pack falls 2 inches above the waist and the top is behind the shoulders.  A pack that hangs too low will force the child to lean forward placing excessive stress on the shoulders. A waist strap can help hold the pack close to the waist.
3.)   Choose a pack with padded straps that are at least 2 inches wide to allow for greater comfort and better weight distribution.
4.)   Use both shoulder straps. Hanging the pack from one shoulder   disproportionately compresses one side of the child’s body, often causing the child to lean to the opposite side to compensate.
5.)   Shoulder straps should be snug. Loose straps can allow the back to dangle resulting in spinal misalignments and pain.
6.)   The maximum weight for a loaded back pack is 10% of the child’s weight.  If the pack causes the child to bend forward, it is too heavy.  Try to prioritize the items your child carries so that you can eliminate unnecessary items. To further lighten the load, a book or two may need to be hand carried. 
7.)   The heaviest objects should be loaded first so that they are carried lower and closer to the body.
8.)   Teach your child to make use of the back pack’s compartments to evenly distribute contents.
9.)    Back packs on wheels are often too large and cumbersome to be practical. They must still be lifted and carried upstairs, and they don’t work well in the snow.
10.) Teach the child how to properly lift the back pack as follows: facethe  back pack, bend at the knees, using both hands check the weight of the pack, lift with your legs (not your back) and carefully slip on one shoulder strap at a time.   
As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.”  Small problems now can grow into bigger ones as your child develops. If you are concerned about your child’s posture or if your child experiences pain from back pack use, consult your family chiropractor or pediatrician.