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Mobility

Foundation #2: Spine and Nervous System Movement

Dr. John Palmer

Foundation #2: Spine and Nervous System Movement

Back to School RushProper spine and nervous movement are always a concern when kids go back to school. Kids have been back in school since early August. Going back to school is always a hectic time of the year for children because of all the preparations. Among all the frenzy, we may miss signs that our children are experiencing neck, mid-back, or low-back pain because of ill-fitting backpacks. Do they complain of numbness or tingling in their back, shoulders, arms, or fingers? Notice whether they are struggling to put on or take off their backpack. Test the weight by lifting it yourself. Does it feel like 50 pounds of bricks?The rule of thumb is that a backpack should not exceed 10 percent of a child’s body weight. According to one study, more than 70 percent of students reported carrying a bag in excess of 10 percent of their body weight. The higher the grade of the student, the more weight was carried. An Italian study reported that the average child carries a backpack that would be equal to a 39-pound weight for a 176-pound man or a 29-pound weight for a 132-pound woman. HealthyChildren.org has a good article on how to follow backpack safety. NSC.org has a good guide to choosing the right backpack.

Long-term Effects of Heavy Backpacks

Back pain in any population is always an alarming sign. When your little one talks about back pain, your ears should perk up. The spinal column is intelligently designed to support the body. It is perfectly built to lift heavy loads. The problem lies in the improper use of the spine. During childhood, proper spinal column bones and curvature are developing at a rapid rate. The last thing the spine needs is to bear the load of a backpack that is ill-fitted for a body. A general rule is that a backpack should not weigh more than 10 percent of a child’s bodyweight. For example, if you have a 40-pound kindergartener then the weight of their backpack should not be more than four pounds. One study found that there is an increased risk of developing back pain for every one percent of increase in backpack weight. Another study conducted in Spine, in 2010, said that increased backpack loads compress lumbar discs significantly, in addition to pain. What is happening is that the developing muscles and bones cannot carry the heavy load. When a child carries a heavy backpack for a 180-day school year, that adds up to cause compensation. Compensation is when one muscle is working harder than another to cause imbalance. Compensation of the developing skeletal system in our children shows up in the form of pain. Pain is a red flag that needs to be checked out ASAP. Make sure you check on your little ones when they tell you their back is hurting. Back pain at school age may develop into chronic back pain later in life. Even if the pain goes away, that is a direct sign that the body is compensating so you may go about your day. Do not ignore the intelligence of your body when pain is the feedback you are receiving from it.

Possible Disorders Related to Heavy Backpack

1. Excessive weight can fatigue the growing skeletal system and cause spinal deformities

2. Carrying the backpack on one shoulder causes the child to bend the opposite way to compensate for one-sided weight, causing skeletal changes.

3. Repeatedly carrying weight in a backpack that is improperly distributed can cause physical issues as well as skeletal changes.

4. Bending the body forward to maintain balance in carrying heavy weight has a negative impact on the natural curvature in the lumbar area.

5. Exceeding 10% of body weight in a load causes dropped shoulders and increases the curvature in the chest area or upper back, leading to a hump.

6. A child will develop a loss of balance as a result of postural changes occurring because they are always leaning forward to offset the weight.

7. Scoliosis can begin to develop or worsen when there is too much weight carried by a growing child.

8. Development of forward-head posture occurs because the child is straining every day to balance out the weight.

8 Ways to Limit Heavy Backpacks

1. Don’t exceed weight carried in a backpack by more than 10 percent of a child’s bodyweight. For example, a 40-pound child should not have a backpack weighing more than four pounds.

2. Make sure to find a backpack with two thickly padded arm straps. AVOID one-strap backpacks like the plague!

3. Make sure to get a bag with adjustable straps as well as a sternum strap, to get the weight right next to the back. Adjustable straps keep the bag in the proper position, four inches above the waist. Most kids’ backpacks do not have a sternum strap. A sternum strap distributes weight properly.

4. Purchase a small backpack. If a child has a large backpack they will fit as much as they can stuff into it. Also make sure to get a backpack with compartments to distribute the weight evenly. The backpacks with one large pocket and one zipper are the most dangerous for your child.

5. Encourage your child to do as much homework as possible at school, during free time, to limit carrying books home.

6. Refuse to use a backpack for your child, stating the deteriorating effect it has on your child’s posture.

7. Talk to the Parent Teacher Association to increase awareness of the heavy backpack loads and how it affects children. Share this study with them: Check this study conducted by the Malta Government.

8.Friends and Family Health Centers offer spinal manipulation with chiropractic care at our Birmingham, Alabama, center. Our board-certified doctors can analyze your child’s gait and posture. Click here to make an appointment now!

  1. Moore M, White G, Moore D. Association of relative backpack weight with reported pain, pain sites, medical utilization, and lost school time in children and adolescents. J Sch Health 2007; 77: 232–239.
  2. Wirth B, Humphreys K. Pain characteristics of adolescent spinal pain. BMC Pediatr 2015; 15: 42.
  3. Spiteri, K., Busuttil, M., Aquilina, S., Gauci, D., Camilleri, E., & Grech, V. (2017). Schoolbags and back pain in children between 8 and 13 years: A national study. British Journal of Pain, 11(2), 81-86. doi:10.1177/2049463717695144
  4. Safety at Home. (n.d.). Retrieved August 28, 2018, from https://www.nsc.org/home-safety/safety-topics/child-safety/backpacks
  5. Zakeri Y, Baraz Sh, Gheibizadeh M, Saidkhani V. Relationship Between Backpack Weight and Prevalence of Lordosis, Kyphosis, Scoliosis and Dropped Shoulders in Elementary Students. Int J Pediatr 2016; 4(6): 1859-66.

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