As the new school year approaches, parents and children from preschool through high school are purchasing back-to-school supplies.
One of the most important pieces of school equipment is the backpack, but care must be taken to prevent sometimes-serious physical problems that are caused by misuse and abuse of book bags.
An important way to maintain proper posture and minimize physical damage from backpacks, according to Dr. John Hitchiner of Chiropractic Care of Granby, is simple: use both backpack straps.
“Two straps are important,” he said.
Having a correct, straight posture, both while using a backpack and before and after use is very important, according to Stephanie Schroeder, a Granby native and Kriplu-certified yoga instructor with 200 hours of learning under her belt.
“Good posture helps alleviate pressure on the spinal chord, which prevents lower back pain,” Schroeder said. “It also allows your chest to be more open, which increases lung capacity allowing more air to get to your bloodstream and vital organs.”
Hitchiner said recent backpacks have been better designed to evenly distribute weight and that fact is a marketing point for some companies. The overall weight of a backpack shouldn’t exceed 10 to 15 percent of a child’s weight.
Although using a locker isn’t always feasible for kids in school, another major way to reduce stress on students’ backs is to lighten the load in backpacks.
“The less weight you have, the better,” Hitchiner said.
The consequences of overloaded backpacks are serious and include negative changes to spinal structure and muscle imbalances. Spinal curvature can eventually develop.
“The least amount of time you can wear it, the better,” Hitchiner said.
Hitchiner recommended ergonomic backpacks and backpacks with wheels as possible solutions for students carrying too much weight on their backs, especially for young children.
Schroeder recommended a variety of yoga postures that help build core strength and alleviate back stress.
“Kids can practice the mountain pose as well as arm raises, spine-lengthening seated postures and the downward-facing dog posture to help lengthen and strengthen the back and body,” she said. “Yoga has ample benefits.”
As for relief after a day carrying a full pack, there are some simple exercises that students can perform to help strengthen and relax their backs.
Hitchiner said backward shoulder rolls, sky reaches and gentle massage from parents will help kids deal with the burden.
“[They should] try to stretch their backs as much as they can,” he said.
Schroeder, now a resident of New York City, carries a backpack in her own daily travels and offers this advice: “I carry a backpack because it puts equal weight on my shoulders and I am conscious about checking in on my posture and pulling my shoulders back every few minutes, especially if the bag is heavy.”
Backpack Safety America provides a wealth of resources for parents and students concerned about the effects of wearing backpacks. Visit its website here.