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ARLINGTON, VA – Back pain is ubiquitous in American adults and they are not alone. Young children experience back pain much earlier than previous generations, and the use of overweight backpacks can be a factor, according to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA).

When students return to school this fall – many for the first time in over a year in person – choosing the right backpack and carrying it can help relieve pain. Studies suggest that backpacks that exceed 10% of a child’s body weight can cause not only back pain, but a forward-facing head posture as well.

“In my own practice, I have seen an increase in the number of young children complaining of back, neck and shoulder pain,” said Dr. Scott Bautch, President of the ACA Council on Occupational Health. “The first question I ask these patients is, ‘Do you carry a backpack to school?’ The answer is almost always ‘yes’. “

What can you do?

Dr. Bautch suggests using an ergonomically designed backpack. Here are his tips for parents on choosing the right backpack and helping children to carry it correctly:

• Make sure that your child’s backpack weighs no more than 10 percent of their body weight when packed. A heavy backpack will cause your child to bend forward to carry the weight on their back rather than their shoulders.

• The backpack should never hang more than 10 cm below the waist. A backpack that is too low increases the weight on the shoulders, so that your child bends forward when walking.

• A backpack with individualized compartments helps to position the contents optimally. Make sure that sharp or bulky items are packed outside the area that will rest on your child’s back.

• Bigger is not necessarily better. The more space there is in a backpack, the more your child carries and the heavier the backpack becomes.

• Ask your child to wear both shoulder straps. Carrying the backpack around on a strap can result in a disproportionate shift in weight to one side, which can lead to neck and muscle cramps and lower back pain.

• Wide, padded straps are very important. Unpadded straps are uncomfortable and can dig into your child’s shoulders.

• The shoulder straps should be adjustable so that the backpack can adapt to your child’s body. Straps that are too loose can cause the backpack to dangle, resulting in a misalignment of the spine and pain.

• If the backpack is still too heavy, talk to your child’s teacher. Ask your child if they could leave the heaviest books or objects at school and only bring lighter handout materials or workbooks home.

If you or your child experience pain or discomfort from using the backpack, you should see a doctor for chiropractic care. Chiropractors are trained and licensed to diagnose and treat patients of all ages. In addition, chiropractors can recommend exercises to help children build strong muscles, as well as advice on good diet, posture, and sleeping habits. Learn more at www.HandsDownBetter.org.

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