As countless children head back to school this fall, an often overlooked issue could be leading them down a path to developing chronic back pain. Heavy, poorly structured backpacks are not only capable of straining still developing muscles and ligaments, overloaded bags can actually contribute to lasting changes in posture and ultimately result in chronic pain. In 2013 alone, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported 5,415 backpack-related injuries treated in emergency rooms, with 14,000 reporting injuries requiring treatment. What can you do to lighten the load and align their spines?

Watch the Weight

According to guidelines from the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) and the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), students should carry no more than 10% of their body weight in a backpack. Too often, they contain 2-3 times that amount, causing children to strain and lean under the weight. Dr. Jerome McAndrews, a spokesman for the ACA, says that loads like these can lead to disability later in life. “Children are carrying far too much weight in their backpacks and they are carrying them improperly,” he says. “We’re concerned that the damage that is inflicted now will be showing up 30 years later in even more serious back injuries.” Help your child learn to pack the heaviest items first so they are carried nearest to the body, and consider keeping a second set of books at home, or investing in a bag with wheels for weightier items that require regular transport.

Consider Structure

Look for a quality-made backpack that includes wide padded straps, a padded back, and a plastic framing sheet or internal frame, which will make the bag more structured and rigid so it will evenly distribute the weight of the load. Also, consider those that include separated compartments, and which have a hip strap or waist belt, as these can also serve to redistribute the weight carried on the shoulders, down through the back and pelvis.

Insist On Two Snug Straps

Children will sometimes develop the bad habit of slinging the bag over a single shoulder and using only one strap, which causes an imbalanced distribution of weight across the back, and can mean your child is changing his posture and gait to compensate for the uneven load. Shoulder straps can also become too loose, so rather than fitting snugly against the body above the waist, the bag shifts too low, putting pressure on the hips and leading to strain and irritation. These shifts may not be bothersome at first, but will certainly fatigue muscles and contribute to chronic back pain.

Has Your Child Expressed Discomfort?

If making simple changes to the way your child carries daily gear isn’t enough to ease discomfort, it may be time to assess your child for core weakness, tight back muscles, poor posture, or some other underlying issues. Contact Advanced Wellness and Rehab today to learn more about our comprehensive approach to support and recovery!