According to Dr. Bautch, a past president of the American Chiropractic Association's Council on Occupational Health, a recent study conducted in Italy found that the average child carries a backpack that would be the equivalent of a 39-pound burden for the average adult man, or a 29-pound load for the average adult woman. Of those children in the study who carried heavy back- packs to school, 60 percent had experienced back pain as a result.
Dr. Bautch also reports that preliminary results of studies being conducted in France show that the longer a child wears a backpack, the longer it takes for a curvature or deformity of the spine to correct itself. “The question that needs to be addressed next is, ‘does it ever return to normal?’
What Can You Do?
The ACA offers the following tips to help prevent the needless pain that backpack misuse could cause the students in your household.
- Make sure your child’s backpack weighs no more than 10 percent of his or her body weight. A heavier backpack will cause your child to bend forward to support the weight on the back, rather than the shoulders.
- The backpack should never hang more than four inches below the waistline. A backpack that hangs too low increases the weight on the shoulders, causing your child to lean forward when walking.
- A backpack with individualized compartments helps in positioning the contents most effec- tively.
- Make sure that pointy or bulky objects are packed away from the area that will rest on your child’s back.
- Bigger is not necessarily better. The more room there is in a backpack, the more your child will carry-and the heavier the backpack will be.
- Urge your child to wear both shoulder straps. Lugging the backpack around by one strap can cause the disproportionate shift of weight to one side, leading to neck and muscle spasms, as well as low-back pain.
- Wide, padded straps are very important. Non- padded straps are uncomfortable, and can dig into your child’s shoulders.
- The shoulder straps should be adjustable so the backpack to fit to your child’s body. Straps that are too loose can cause the backpack to dangle, causing spinal misalignment and pain.
- If the backpack is still too heavy, talk to your child’s teacher. Ask if your child could leave the heaviest books at school, and bring home only lighter hand-out materials or workbooks. Or encourage your local school district to pur- chase textbooks on CD-Rom.
If you or your child experiences any pain or discomfort resulting from backpack use, call your family chiropractor. Doctors of chiropractic are licensed and trained to diagnose and treat patients of all ages and will use a gentler type of treatment for children. In addition, doctors of chiropractic can also prescribe exercises designed to help children develop strong muscles, along with instruction in good nutrition, posture and sleeping habits.