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Back-to-School Backpack Safety Tips

By Dr. Molly Casey

Backpack Safety

It’s that time again, school and lots of school books. Backpacks may sound like an inconsequential aspect of school life and your child’s health, but backpacks can support or play against your child and their health. Your decisions about the actual type of backpack, how it’s packed, and how it’s worn all play a role in whether it’s working with or against your child and their health.

Your Child’s Spine

Your child’s spine is still developing. It’s always important to carry and move with proper body mechanics. It’s even more important to do so when the structure that is doing the work isn’t fully developed.

The spine has numerous jobs. The better the spine moves, the healthier your child is because the spine protects and helps the communication system (nervous system) function optimally. The spine moves better and stays healthier for longer when it carries weight the way the structure intended. So your child’s backpack (extra weight) and how they carry it is important.

Type of Backpack and How To Wear It

Choose a backpack that is carried on the back with two straps instead of a single strap over one shoulder, such as a messenger type bag. Pick a backpack that has wider (at least two inches) and adjustable straps. Carrying the pack on the back and over both shoulders does two things. First, it allows the child to carry the excess weight closer to the body. This provides less stress on the spine and allows the core of the body to take the brunt of the load, which is the proper mechanics for this situation.

Second, the two wider and adjustable straps, so long as both are over the shoulder, allow for a more even distribution of weight over the body. Again this allows for less stress; more areas of the body can handle the load with greater integrity. One area -- one shoulder, for example -- isn’t overloaded repeatedly with extra weight. The adjustability of the straps, so long as they are kept snug against the shoulders, allows for even closer carrying of the weight, which decreases stress as the excess weight is held close to the center of the body.

Summary: A backpack should be carried on the back with two wide, adjustable straps. Encourage your child to carry it over both shoulders. Adjust the straps as snug as possible to the shoulders.

How to Pack

Taking a couple extra minutes to teach your child about packing the bag is wise. It’s simple -- maybe not easy, but simple. Keep the contents as organized as possible because this helps more evenly distribute the weight. Put the heaviest books in the bottom or as deep as possible. This allows the heaviest part of the load to be as close as possible to the spine and lower portion of the body’s core. The majority of one’s weight is carried toward the core of the body and lower lumbar spine. By keeping the bag packed as such, you’re mimicking properly how the body carries weight loads.

You may initially think it seems quite silly to pay such close attention to the backpack and how your child wears it. However, this is repetitive stress to the spine and body that’s no different than sitting at a computer or lifting at work for hours on end. It’s an important part of your child’s developing spine and health. Paying attention to this and putting effort into getting it right will help your child for years to come. Of course, come into The Joint Chiropractic and ask your doctor of chiropractic to help assess the backpack in relationship to your child’s spine and health.

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