Marin Teens Feel the Attack of the Backpack - A Chiro's Advice


It’s back-to-school season. This is when Marin high school students, complaining of back, neck and shoulder pain, start a steady stream to my

chiropractic office. Here’s the problem – their giant, overstuffed backpacks. Chiropractic is a great way to resolve the pain, and I invite you to bring your child in. But let’s talk about why these repetitive stress injuries happen to your student's still-growing body, and how to prevent them. The weight of a book-filled backpack places a heavy load on the shoulders and can pull a child’s upper body backward. Then they have to compensate by bending forward or arching the back, which can compress the spine and lead to pain. Why girls are more at risk I see four times more girls than boys with these backpack-related strains. The reason? Girls are generally smaller with less upper body strength, yet they carry the same heavy textbooks as boys. The American Chiropractic Association says a backpack should be no more than 10 percent of a child's weight. But based on my experience seeing these kids, I’d go further and recommend that the backpack weigh no more than 15 pounds, period. After all, that’s already the equivalent of hefting two average-size newborn babies. Try putting your student’s pack on the bathroom scale. You’ll be surprised what the books, binders, water bottle, keys and pens add up to. Buy the right backpack The National Safety Council advises you to select a backpack with these properties:

  • Ergonomically built, with reflective stripes for visibility

  • No wider or longer than your child's torso, extending no more than four inches below the waist

  • Padded back and shoulder straps

  • Additional hip or chest strap to distribute weight

  • Multiple compartments, plus compression straps on sides or bottom to stabilize and disperse the burden

Think about choosing the smallest backpack you can get away with. Anyone with a large purse or bag can tell you why. The more space you have, the more you carry. Tips to help keep your child pain free No messenger bags – a cross-body bag puts all of the weight on one strap, making the body compensate for the imbalance and creating overstressed neck and shoulder muscles. Don’t carry a backpack on one side – casually throwing a strap over one shoulder creates an instant posture malfunction, same as with a messenger bag. Use a locker – carry only what is needed for the first couple classes and strategically stash the rest. Hold up that cell phone – looking at a phone at lap level adds stress to the neck and shoulders, places that are also affected by a heavy backpack. More tips for pain free cell phone use. When the pain is too much Call me when your child needs relief from the spasming muscles and stiffness from a too-heavy backpack. Through therapeutic massage and chiropractic adjustments I stimulate healing blood circulation, relax stiff muscles and realign the spine. I’ll also send them home with a program of strengthening exercises for the neck and shoulders. Pain is a distraction no one needs!

Learn more Help your student get better sleep About my chiropractic practice Contact Dr. Dan

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