Backpacks – Not Your Spine’s Best Friend

Alas, the new school year is here! On top of every child’s list of school supplies is a new backpack. While backpacks vary in their style, color and sizes, they all share one thing in common: they are detrimental to the health of your child’s spine. According to an article in a 1998 edition of the prestigious scientific journal Spine, by the time a young adult has graduated from high school, he or she has experienced at least one episode of back pain, due in part to the improper use of backpacks.

Children are carrying around excessive amounts of weight on their backs. In fact, a backpack can easily weigh upwards of 20 pounds. That kind of pressure on the back of a child in early adolescence can result in premature degeneration of the spine. But how do the backpacks cause so much damage? Backpacks cause postural shifts, which then may result in shifts in the alignment of the spine. Shifts of spinal vertebra are called vertebral subluxations (a.k.a. vertebral subluxation complex). Vertebral subluxations can lead to back and neck pain, muscular tension, muscular imbalance/asymmetry, decreased range of motion and early degeneration and arthritic changes of the spine.

When a child walks with a loaded backpack hanging off of one shoulder (let’s say the right side), they compensate by leaning towards the opposite direction. As a result, other areas of the body also compensate for the weight imbalance. Further compensations result in muscles working much harder on one side of the body versus the other. Take this scenario and repeat it on a weekly, daily, or monthly basis, and it is easy to see how this situation can snowball into a major problem. Similarly, take a look at your child from the side while they are wearing their backpack. You’ll quickly notice how their head becomes displaced forward, once again compensating for the excessive load that is being levied onto their spine.

As chiropractors that focus on the 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 don’t often realize is that a child’s spine is still in its developmental stages. Considering that the human spine becomes far more stable in the mid to later teenage years, it is easy to understand how unnecessary pressure applied to the spine in pre-adolescence and adolescence can leave a permanent scar (no different than leaving a footprint in wet cement). Unfortunately, damage to the spine at such a young age is likely to result in debilitating pain and early arthritic changes that will be most apparent in later years.

So how do we go about preventing damage to the spine that may result from the use of backpacks?Recommendations in accordance with Backpack Safety America®, include advice for purchasing 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 should have a structurally reinforced base. This will prevent unnecessary sagging commonly found in less expensive models.

3. When the child is preparing to put on the backpack, have them face the backpack when lifting it onto their shoulders.

4. Next, Have them bend at the knees, squat down and use their legs (not their back) to lift their backpacks (always lift with the legs).

5. Have the child slip one arm at a time underneath the straps, securing both straps comfortably around the shoulders.

6. Finally, make sure that all straps are adjusted so that the backpack is snug to the body.

As was mentioned previously, vertebral subluxation complex (vsc) is a condition in which the spine has been forced from its normal alignment. The consequences are far more reaching than just neck and back pain. Look through any anatomy book and you’ll see that the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system) communicate with every cell, tissue, gland and organ of the body via the nerves that exit from the spine. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to realize that shifts in spinal alignment can easily interfere with the optimal function of the nervous system.

My favorite backpack company is Airpacks. They are fashionable, and much better on the spine due to its extra padding and air pockets in the straps and lower back, easing tension and weight off of the spine.

Chiropractors that focus on the 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 at any chiropractic college throughout the world. CBP doctors commit themselves to extensive post-graduate study in the areas of spinal biomechanics and biophysics. CBP is backed 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 evaluation. In addition to offering structural corrective care, they go the extra mile by providing education that will help families implement proper postural habits that will prevent any further damage to their spines and inhibit the development of vertebral subluxation complex. In our practice, we believe that the greatest gift any parent can give their child is the gift of health. Since health and wellness are dependent on a properly functioning nervous system, it’s easy to understand the benefits of structural corrective chiropractic care.