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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

Backpack Safety: “As the twig bends, so grows the tree”

Sep 01, 2014 03:43AM ● By Risa Sloves

"Stop slouching, put your shoulders back, stand up straight and pay attention!” Does this sound familiar? Many of us spent years listening to such badgering. Mother was right though. Posture does indeed matter.

Leading physicians and researchers have reported that posture affects and moderates every physiologic function, from breathing to hormonal production. To fully appreciate the profound effects posture has on the entire body, we must consider the body’s master control system: the brain and nervous system. They control and coordinate all other systems, organs and tissues of the body. Alf Breig, M.D., neurosurgeon and researcher, determined that abnormal postural patterns interfere with the natural healing ability of the central nervous system. Similar findings have been reported in the medical journals Spine and the Journal of Neurosurgery.

Billions of dollars in workers compensation are lost every year due to back, neck and repetitive stress injuries. Most of those are because of bad habits learned in childhood, habits that could be prevented by education at an early age. Spinal damage that children sustain from lifting backpacks is much like repetitive stress industrial injuries in adults. Educating children now could eliminate much pain and grief later in life. It has been estimated that before they graduate high school children will lift more than 22,000 pounds or eleven tons of backpack weight. That is enough to cause stress and injury, especially to a growing spinal column.

To safely use a backpack, the child must first be fitted properly. An ill-fitting pack can cause back pain, muscle strain or nerve impingement. First, make sure your child has a backpack that is correct for their age and size. Both shoulder straps should be used and they should be padded to avoid pressure on the nerves around the armpits and worn snugly but never too tight. Never sling a pack over just one shoulder as this distributes weight unevenly and could contribute to long term problems such as scoliosis, neck, shoulder, back or other problems. Choose a pack that has a waist strap to stabilize the load.

Repetitive lifting, even of light weights, can cause damage. Children must lift their packs properly as well. First, bend at the knees and, using both hands, check the weight of the backpack to assure that it is not excessive. Next, the child should lift the pack with the legs (not the back) and then slip into the shoulder straps one at a time. The pack should be worn over the mid and upper back rather than slung low over the lower back and buttocks.

A loaded backpack should never exceed 15 percent of the child’s body weight. For instance, an 80-pound child should not carry more than 12 pounds on his back. If the backpack forces the child into a forward-bending posture, it is overloaded. Necessary items should be packed carefully to distribute weight evenly otherwise the body will shift into unnatural postures to compensate. These postural abnormalities should not be overlooked as they are often the first sign of spinal misalignments and other neuromusculoskeletal conditions such as scoliosis. The earlier these conditions are detected and corrected, the less likely there will be long term health consequences.

Dr. Risa Sloves is one of 12 board-certified pediatric chiropractors in Connecticut. She practices with her husband, Dr. Mark Joachim, at Associates in Family Chiropractic and Natural Health Care, P.C. in Norwalk. To obtain further information on backpack safety or have your child screened with their backpack, call 203-838-1555 or email [email protected]. See ad, page 30.

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