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Backpacks, Purses and Brief Cases: A Balancing Act

When did it become customary for people to carry their lives with them?  A purse became the size of an overnight bag, a backpack is bigger than the kid wearing it, and brief cases hold laptops and more.  Convenient?  Yes.  Practical?  Maybe.  Healthy?  NO!

According to the American Consumer Product Safety Commission, in 2001 there were 7,000 reports of backpack-related injuries sent to the emergency room.  Unless a congenital condition is present, our children should not be experiencing back pain.  However, the homework is starting earlier and proper posture is not heavily promoted.  When a child carries a significant amount of weight on his/her back, the center of gravity changes.  The child will lean forward at the waist to counterbalance the extra weight in the back.  Leaning forward adds muscular stress on the shoulders and neck region.  Strain is also placed on the low back muscles in order to maintain a forward bent posture.  Muscular imbalance develops between the front and back of the body. 

Here are a few tips from the American Chiropractic Association to help your child avoid back (pack) pain:

  • The backpack should be no more than 10% of the child’s bodyweight
  • The backpack should not hang more than 4 inches below the waistline
  • Utilizing the individualized compartments helps distribute the weight
  • Bigger is not always better!  Don’t promote carrying a heavier backpack
  • Urge the child to use both shoulder straps
  • Wide padded straps are more comfortable and won’t dig into the child’s shoulders
  • Talk to your child’s teacher if you find the backpack is frequently too heavy

When a child is carrying the backpack on only one shoulder (of which many are guilty) it is similar to holding a purse or brief case.  The one sided carry causes an imbalance between right and left sides of the body as opposed to the front and back.  On the side carrying the bag, the shoulder is usually hiked up to guard against the weight.  Hiking the shoulder causes muscular strain in the neck and back and causes the spine to curve toward the shoulder.  Due to the curvature in the upper portion of the spine, the lower spine must also curve to counterbalance and keep the body in an upright position.  Therefore, the stress of simply a purse can result in both neck and back pain.

Here are a few more tips from the American Chiropractic Association:

  • Select a purse or brief case with a wide adjustable strap long enough to place over the head
  • When carrying, switch sides frequently to avoid placing too much weight on one side
  • Empty unnecessary items
  • Place necessary items in the front pockets to avoid overstretching to reach

How can chiropractic care help?  During an initial examination, the chiropractor is able to collect information such as muscle tone and the alignment of the spine.  The chiropractor and patient can discuss possible sources of poor posture, including carrying heavy items.  Chiropractic adjustments and manual therapy correct the body’s bad habits.  However, a patient must have an active role in treatment by making a conscious effort to avoid provocative activities.

Did you know kids can see a chiropractor too?  In addition to promoting backpack safety, having your child evaluated by a chiropractor at an early age can prove beneficial.  For example, Scoliosis can be caught at an earlier age.  Kids that are active can recover faster from injuries and prevent future musculoskeletal complications.  Also, kids are using computers and texting at a very young age which can lead to poor posture, headaches and muscle strain.  Help your child avoid the aches and pains of the future and take him/her to your chiropractor today!

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