Dr. Joanne Baird (August 2021) Can you believe we’re turning the calendar already? Back to school is around the corner. August brings excitement, a busier schedule (especially for parents), a return to academic and sporting activities, heavy backpacks, and computer time. We can still avoid the aches & pains of back to school with thoughtful conditioning and healthy habits!
Injuries often occur when athletes suddenly increase the duration, intensity or frequency or their activities. Before organized sports begin, young athletes should gradually increase activity toward a higher fitness level, especially if out of shape from other summer activities. Proper technique is important, and coaches are great resources in a conditioning plan. In addition, our Gulf Coast temps stay peak-of-summer hot well through August, so staying properly hydrated is critical to preventing heat-related illnesses. Finally, a healthy, well-balanced diet is key in optimizing bodies and brains for a new school year.
Back Pain Prevention
Even with the growth of laptop learning, millions of children each year are walking to school with a backpack full of heavy books and materials. This backpack strain can often impact the back, neck, and shoulder muscles. Usually, the discomfort is short-term but heavy weight to the back can produce lingering issues.
- Distort the natural curves in the middle and lower backs, causing muscle strain and irritation of the spine joints and rib cage.
- Lead to rounding of the shoulders.
- Cause a person to lean forward, reducing balance and making it easier to fall.
- Habitually carrying backpacks over one shoulder will strain muscles to compensate for the uneven weight and the spine will lean to the opposite side. This muscle imbalance can cause muscle strain, spasm, and back pain.
A smart guideline is to limit the weight of the backpack to 10-15% of your child’s body weight. Usually, pain will diminish with a period of rest, and there is no evidence backpack use can lead to permanent injury or structural spinal deformity.
Helpful Hints to Prevent Backpack Strain
- Choose a pack with lightweight material (nylon vs leather), padded back, wide (2-inch adjustable shoulder straps and individualized compartments.
- Help distribute weight from shoulders with a hip strap or waist belt.
- Consider a separate bag for the laptop or heavy electronics.
- Use both shoulder straps and wear the backpack on the back rather than over one shoulder.
- Pack the heaviest objects into the backpack first so they are carried lower and closest to the body and distribute the load between compartments.
- Lift the backpack using the leg muscles, keeping close to the body.
- Try not to lean forward when walking. If this is necessary, it’s time to lighten the load.
In sum, what’s the backpack bottom line? If your child complains of discomfort, reduce the weight. Have them carry only what is necessary and encourage frequent trips to the locker during the day. Back to school brings enough butterflies…without aches and pains, too!