Back to School: Backpack Safety
Now that the kids have gone back to school, their backpacks are back on their backs. At least, I hope it's a backpack. Messenger backs, rolling bags, tote bags...all of these are even more stressful to the spine than backpacks. Backpacks are the best way for kids to carry what they need and maintain good spinal hygiene, but they must be worn correctly in order to not cause damage to the spine.
What is spinal hygiene and why is it important?
Spinal hygiene is similar to dental hygiene: a daily practice to keep your spine healthy and functioning at its best. It is important because the spine's main job is to protect the spinal cord and nerves. These vital organs keep the brain connected to the body and all the functions it has to manage. A few of these functions include: digestion, sleep, hormonal balance, energy, attention and focus, immune system, hand-eye coordination. Basically, any function you can think of is managed by the brain and the brain communicates through the spinal cord and nerves. In other words, brain, spinal cord, and nerve health is vital to the healthy function of the body! Keeping the spine healthy is a great foundation for good brain communication.
What do backpacks have to do with spinal hygiene?
Backpacks are the best for your spine only when fitted and worn correctly. For a backpack to fit properly it should be just about the length of the back. The bottom of the pack should come down to the base of the spine. Many young children are given backpacks they will grow into. This is not recommended! A too big backpack encourages putting more weight in the pack and puts the weight on areas of the spine that are not strong enough to carry it. The pack should also fit close to the spine. If there are gaps between the pack and the back, the pack is not the right size.
An ideal pack has wide shoulder straps so the weight can be distributed across the shoulder rather than pulling on the shoulder joint. Even better is a pack with a wide adjustable hip strap so the weight can sit on the hips and be kept stable.
A backpack should ALWAYS be worn on both shoulders! Wearing only one strap causes distortion of the spine and pressure on the nerves. Particularly in a spine that is still growing this distortion can lead to chronic problems throughout life.
How do I make sure my child's pack fits properly?
First, observe. Have your child put on the pack and adjust it to where it's most comfortable. Then, observe from the side. Look at where the bottom of the pack rests (base of the spine is ideal), if there is any gapping, if the child's shoulders are hunching forward or being pulled backward (too heavy, too big, or straps too narrow), if the child's head is straining forward (ideally the ear is directly over the shoulder).
If you want an expert opinion, bring your child and the backpack to your local family friendly chiropractor. Many chiropractors (including myself) will do a free backpack screening.
Keep those backpacks safe for your kids! The spine, spinal cord and nerves we are born with are the only ones we'll ever get. Keeping them healthy from the start is the best!