Chiropractor Rosina Ghassemi looks at the problem of children carrying overweight backpacks and offers some advice to combat the damage that is being done to young people’s bodies.

Many kids today prefer to use backpacks to carry their belongings to school. These bags allow them to carry weight on two shoulders instead of just one, and they also leave the hands free to do other things, like play with their smart phones. Also, most kids just consider them cool, especially compared to the alternatives.

But what’s not cool at all about backpacks is that they can actually cause some harm to your kids. In 2001, emergency rooms across the US saw a total of more than 6000 cases of injuries to children related to carrying a backpack.

A lot of the problem has to do with overloading. The recommended weight of a backpack should not exceed more than 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the child’s weight. It’s a simple formula: Student’s body weight x 0.10 = total weight the body can handle in the bag.

For example, if your child weighs 80lbs (36kg) the weight of his backpack should not exceed 10-15lbs (4.5-6.8kg). But about a quarter of all young students bear more than 20 per cent of their body weight in their backpacks. Today thousands of young students carry backpack loads of more than 25 to even 30lb (11-13.6kg).

When children carry these loads they become tired and they don’t adjust their strides like adults do. Instead, the compensate for the inordinately heavy load by dropping their heads a lot more forward, and they exhibit uneven posture. These reactions cause a stress on the body with both short-term and long-term implications. The stress causes immediate effects on posture leading to a tendency to slouch all the time.

Children may also have problems such as headaches, neck pain, shoulder pain, muscle soreness, numbness and tingling.

If the problem isn’t corrected, then this stress can eventually lead to some long-term damage to the spine. This problem increases the likelihood of back pain as an adult. Of course computer use, texting or video games inflict added harm and damage to the spine and the growing bodies.

There are certain incognito posture supports that are created and designed by chiropractic doctors that help avoid poor posture and allow the body to be supported while under daily load of backpacks. They can be found quite easily online but adults with responsibility for the well-being of children and young people should seek professional help if they are concerned.

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Exercises to counteract constant backpack weight

According to some experts, the best exercises to counter the effects of backpack use involve strengthening the muscles involved in carrying a backpack. Exercises to strengthen the abdominal muscles should be done about three times a week. One example is crunches on a medicine ball, and two sets of eight to 12 crunches are recommended.

Another good exercise is the bicycle manoeuvre. You lie down on your back with your legs outstretched and your hands behind your head. Then pretend that you are riding a bicycle by alternately bringing your right knee towards your left elbow and then your left knee towards your right elbow. Two sets of ten to 12 repetitions should suffice.

Lower back exercises should also be done. One exercise has you lying down on your stomach, while you tighten one leg and raise it a few inches off the ground for ten seconds. Do the same thing for the other leg. You can do the exercise about five times.

Finally, the upper back and shoulders should also be strengthened. Push-ups are good examples of this kind of upper body strengthening exercise.

To encourage your kids to do these exercises, maybe you can do the exercises with your kids. It will help keep you healthy as well!

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