By Dr. Nancy Miggins

Drs. Nancy and Larry Miggins

Drs. Nancy and Larry Miggins

With the school year underway, now is the prime time in which to assess the fit of your child’s backpack.

According to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission in its most recent study, more than 21,000 backpack-related injuries were treated at hospital emergency rooms, doctors’ offices, and clinics in 2003. Injuries ranged from contusions (bruising), sprains and strains to the back and shoulder and in rare cases, stress fractures.

Although many factors can lead to back pain—participation in sports or exercise, poor posture, and long periods of inactivity—some children develop backaches and postural imbalances because they’re lugging around an entire desk or locker’s worth of books, school supplies and other personal items each school day. There is growing evidence that overloaded and improperly fitted backpacks may threaten spinal development.

Despite a misconception that the back is not a primary area of concern for schoolchildren, at Miggins Chiropractic we routinely see the effects of unbalanced, overweight and mis-aligned backpacks manifesting themselves in the form of muscle strains and joint pain which may then indeed lead to back pain and poor posture. Children who experience back pain are at an increased risk of having back pain as an adult.

According to Backpack Safety America, medical experts agree that children should not carry more than 10-15% of their body weight in their backpacks. When evaluating whether or not your child’s backpack is too heavy, please consider the following:

  • Is there a demonstrable change in the child’s posture when he/she is wearing the backpack?
  • Does the child visibly struggle with the weight of the backpack?
  • Has your child remarked about tingling sensations or numbness of any kind after wearing the backpack?
  • Does your child exhibit any red marks after wearing the backpack?

Regardless of your responses to the above-mentioned points, we recommend that you and your child always choose a dual-strap backpack and that you implore your child to always wear both straps. It is not only the weight of a backpack that can cause injury, but also how it is carried.

Using only one strap shifts the weight to one side, creating imbalance. This can lead to muscle spasms and low back and hip pain. A life goal for each of us, and one that can be taught early in your child’s life, is how to maintain a well-aligned, symmetrical posture—both with and without the additional weight of a pack.

We like to see that each backpack is aligned mid-back, against a child’s strongest muscle group, so pay close attention to ensure that the backpack rests evenly in the middle of the back. Also make sure that the straps are not too loose and that the backpack does not extend below the low back. And when organizing contents of the backpack, place the heaviest items closest to the back itself.

With backpacks available in a multitude of sizes try to follow this credo: “The size of the backpack should match the size of the child.” It is a very good—yet general—rule of thumb. As for selecting a backpack, we recommend that you consider ones with hip and chest belts to aid in transferring weight from the back and shoulders to the hips and torso. And don’t forget to only purchase packs that feature highly reflective material to enhance the child’s visibility traveling to and from school.

Next, each day before departing for school, help your child choose items essential to that particular school day for inclusion in his or her pack. You can then remove unneeded articles—sheer weight—that can be left behind.

Mention also must be made of proper lifting technique. This is another of vital area of interest that if taught to your child properly and thoroughly early in life, can result in a lifetime of responsible, pain-free movement. A simple sentence sums it all up nicely and is easily repeated and remembered: “Bend at the knees and use your legs to lift.”

In our office, we offer a continual “open door” program whereby families bring in their kids, with their packs, and receive a free backpack analysis and fitting. All we ask is that you provide advance notice of your visit. Please call 206-855-4112 to schedule an appointment.

Best of luck to you and yours as we settle into another school year!

Drs. Nancy and Larry Miggins have practiced for 22 years, promoting wellness, long-term health options and healthy lifestyles. The nationally-known couple routinely consults for leaders in chiropractic and provide training for chiropractors internationally. They have practiced in the Seattle area for the past 14 years. Visit Dr. Nancy and Dr Larry at Health Source Seattle.