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Backpacks – Not Your Spine’s Best Friend
Alas, the new school year is here! At the top of every child’s school supplies list is a new backpack. While backpacks vary in style, color and sizes, they all have one thing in common: they are bad for your child’s spinal health. According to an article in a 1998 edition of the authoritative scientific journal Spine, by the time a young adult has graduated from high school, he has experienced at least one episode of back pain, in part due to improper use of backpacks.
Children carry too much weight on their backs. In fact, a backpack can easily weigh over 20 pounds. This kind of pressure on a child’s back in early adolescence can lead to premature degeneration of the spine. But how do backpacks do so much damage? Backpacks cause postural shifts, which can then lead to changes in spinal alignment. Dislocations of the vertebral column are called vertebral subluxation (also known as vertebral subluxation complex). Spondylolisthesis can lead to back and neck pain, muscle tension, muscle imbalance/asymmetry, reduced range of motion, and early degeneration and arthritic changes of the spine.
When a child walks with a loaded backpack slung over one shoulder (say the right side), they compensate by leaning in the opposite direction. As a result, other areas of the body also compensate for the weight imbalance. Further compensations result in the muscles working much harder on one side of the body than the other. Take this scenario and repeat it on a weekly, daily, or monthly basis, and it’s easy to see how this situation can lead to a big problem. Likewise, take a look at your child from the side while wearing their backpack. You will quickly notice how their head shifts forward, once again compensating for the excessive load placed on their spine.
As chiropractors who focus on structural correction of the spine, we are now seeing a higher incidence of children and young adults with severe neck and back pain. What parents often don’t realize is that a child’s spine is still in its developmental stages. Considering that the human spine becomes much more stable in the mid-to-late teenage years, it’s easy to see how unnecessary stress placed on the spine in pre-adolescence and adolescence can leave a permanent scar (not unlike leaving an imprint in wet cement ). Unfortunately, damage to the spine at such a young age is likely to lead to debilitating pain and early arthritic changes that will be more evident in later years.
So, how can we prevent spinal damage that can be caused by using backpacks? Recommendations according to Backpack Safety America®, include advice on buying backpacks and proper lifting techniques:
1. Make sure the backpack has belt straps. A belt strap serves as a means of stabilization when fastened around the waist.
2. The backpack must have a structurally reinforced base. This will prevent unnecessary slack commonly found in less expensive models.
3. When the child is getting ready to put the backpack on, have them look at the backpack when you lift it onto their shoulders.
4. Then have them bend at the knees, squat, and use their legs (not their backs) to lift their backpacks (always lift with legs).
5. Have the child slide one arm at a time under the straps, securing both straps snugly around the shoulders.
6. Finally, make sure that all straps are adjusted so that the backpack fits the body.
As previously mentioned, vertebral subluxation complex (vsc) is a condition in which the spine has been forced out of its normal alignment. The consequences are far more extensive than neck and back pain. Take a look at any anatomy book and you’ll see that the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system) communicate with every cell, tissue, gland and organ in the body via nerves that exit the spine. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that changes in spinal alignment can easily affect the optimal functioning of the nervous system.
My favorite backpack company is Airpacks. They are stylish and much better on the spine due to the added padding and air pockets in the straps and lower back, reducing tension and weight from the spine.
Chiropractors who focus on structural correction of the spine and vertebral subluxation complex (vsc) practice a chiropractic technique called Clinical Biomechanics of Posture. CBP is a corrective technique that is not part of the standard curriculum in any chiropractic college around the world. CBP physicians are committed to extensive postgraduate studies in the areas of spinal biomechanics and biophysics. CBP is supported by more peer-reviewed research in scientific (medical) journals than any other chiropractic technique.
When parents bring their children to many chiropractic practices, they perform a very thorough structural assessment. In addition to offering structural corrective care, they go the extra mile by providing education to help families implement proper posture habits that will prevent any further damage to their spine and prevent the development of subluxation. In our practice, we believe that the greatest gift any parent can give their child is the gift of health. Since health and wellness depend on a properly functioning nervous system, it is easy to understand the benefits of structural corrective chiropractic care.
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