As summer comes to a close, millions of families across America are preparing for the school year. School represents a vital institution for children everywhere, as a way to receive important education and prepare for the future. However, while children use this time to learn and develop their minds, their bodies and particularly their spines are similarly undergoing significant changes and development. It is worth remembering that school can be physically very rigorous. Not just in terms of gym and physical education responsibilities, but these days many diligent students are burdened daily by a backpack stuffed full of heavy textbooks, reams of papers, and various articles of equipment needed to succeed. Considering that schooling may go on well over ten years during this formative time, there is an increasing concern that shouldering these loads over the duration are having and adverse effect on the spines of millions of students. As backpack weight increases, it brings a risk of muscle strain which can lead to improper growth or injury. And in many instances, students instinctively attempt to counterbalance the load by leaning forward, which can lead to stiff joints and poor posture.

Additionally, it is during this time period around the ages of 10-15 that scoliosis, an unnatural sideways curving of the spine, might manifest. If scoliosis is present, the condition might be further aggravated by an abnormal backpack load. It is true that some districts are making the transition to more digital and tablet-oriented curriculums, which can reportedly minimize or reduce the number of books required to carry around. But these programs can be expensive to implement and may be some time off before they are widely incorporated. If your child’s education still relies on carrying a backpack, consider some of the following tips to best take care of your student’s spinal health.

The first thing to consider is the form factor for the backpack. From the start, it is not recommended using a bag with only one carrying strap, like a messenger bag. During this formative period in your child’s life, this design inherently creates an imbalance once any weight goes into the bag. It may be advisable to go for a two-strap backpack, where the straps are wide, adjustable, and preferably padded. Make sure that wearing the bag over both shoulders instead of just one is encouraged to avoid the imbalance issue mentioned earlier. Adjust the straps, so the bag does not hang below the waist, but is preferably as close to the body as possible. This allows more of the body’s core to handle the weight, as opposed to the unnatural strain being placed on just the spine or neck.

Once you have the bag selected and the fit well adjusted, you have to determine how best to load the bag. As a rule, experts recommend a backpack’s total weight not exceed 10 to 20 percent of the wearer’s body weight. Depending on the demands of your child’s classes and schedule, this can be difficult to adhere to, but keeping the load as light as necessary should be the primary objective. To this end, if your child has equipment or materials that only apply to specific days, make sure they are only bringing what is needed for that particular day.

When you are packing the bag itself, take stock of all the materials that need to go in and categorize them by weight. When you start packing, you will want to distribute the items with the highest weight closer to the side with the straps and then get progressively lighter the further from the straps you go. This is to make sure that when the backpack is being worn, the heaviest books and materials are as close to the body as possible. As mentioned before this lets your child’s body use its core more efficiently and minimizes any undue stress to the spine.

If your child has a locker at their disposal, they can swap out books and supplies as needed. Discuss their schedule with them to determine how best to manage their backpack load while making it to classes and appointments on time.

One other option many are starting to consider is investing in a rolling book bag for your child. Instead of carrying the load on the back at all, this bag has a set of wheels and is pulled by a retractable handle much like a piece of luggage one would use for traveling. Some find this option appealing because since the spine no longer has to bear the brunt of the weight for extended periods of time, your child can handle almost any loadout required by their classes. You may need to scout the environment and your school’s policies to ensure a bag like this would be permissible, but the bag itself is not unlike the case for a moderately sized musical instrument. And the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that publicly funded schools are wheelchair accessible, which should make all areas of the premises reachable.

If you want further counsel on how to approach this situation, you might even consider consulting a chiropractor. Therapists and practitioners and chiropractic are trained to be familiar with the health of the human spine in all stages of life and development. They can provide advice on how best to ensure the health of your child’s spinal health, and in the event an abnormality is detected they would be able to recommend a course of treatment or apply an adjustment themselves.

The spine is one of the most essential parts of the human body. Not only is it meant to keep the body upright and bear any burden we encounter throughout our lives, but it is also one of the primary neural pathways for our nervous system. How we take care of it will have a significant impact on everything else we do. Chances are your child will use a backpack for the vast majority of their time at school. Even if it seems like a mundane trifle, taking care to make sure they are bearing that weight correctly can help them learn and grow the best that they can.

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