We are in the midst of back to school season! Considering how this year is going, I’m not so sure it’s terribly exciting for anyone. Remember those commercials with moms singing “It’s the most wonderful time of year”? I haven’t seen those this year! It dawned on me last month, that I had 13 (now 12) more months of my kids being home with me! While that means I have to put some professional plans on hold, I am determined to make the best of it. So in this series, I share tips on how we can make this a healthy and happy year. What I think is really great about this year, is we as parents actually have so much more ability to decrease some of the negative impacts of school on our kids.
The first tip I’d like to share is book bag safety. My kids will be learning from home all year, so we’ve almost completely eliminated bookbags. We will be co-oping with another family 1-2 days a week, so we’ll be using book bags minimally. But when we do use bookbags, we’ll be sure to use them properly.
We often check posture in the office, because your posture is a window to your spine and nervous system. If we see dysfunction in how your spine is aligned, then we’ll also see changes in how your brain and body communicate through the nervous system.
If we look at this little guy in this picture on the left, you can see what his posture looks like without bookbag, while it’s not ideal because his ears should be over his shoulders, when we look at him wearing a bookbag, his head shift forward even more. And if you look closely, this shift now starts at his hips to compensate for the weight of the bookbag. When we wear very heavy book bags, especially for long periods of time or day after day, think middle or high school kids who may carry many books with them all day, then the postural changes begin to set it, to the point that it’s not possible to fix by simply standing up straight.
What we’re talking about here is Forward Head Posture. Every inch forward your head is relative to your shoulders increases the weight of your head by up to 10 pounds, as far as the muscles of your neck and shoulder are concerned. So you as a parent, if you often feel tension across shoulders and neck, that’s often because we spend a lot of time at desks or in other positions that pull our head forward and it puts a lot of stress and strain on the muscles just trying to keep your head upright. This makes a lot of sense if we think about holding a small child. When we hold them, we hold them close to our body (our center of gravity). If we hold them with our arms extended away from our body, they get really heavy really quickly and our arm muscles tire out. This is what happens to the muscles of your neck and shoulders when you’re head starts to lean forward.
This is critical, because this singular postural change has far reaching effects on your child’s overall health and wellbeing. First, biomechanically, it’s impossible to fill your lungs fully. Go ahead and try it, hunch forward and take a deep breath, then sit up straight and when you take a deep breath, notice how much more air you can take in. If we can’t fill our lungs we have less oxygen reaching the entire body and brain. Obviously that’s critical to overall health. This posture change has also been shown scientifically to decrease testosterone production, so our hormones are impacted. It also increases stress hormones, like cortisol, so when your kids come home and they’re exceptionally stressed out, it can be in part be because of these heavy bookbags. Lastly, forward head posture has been associated with a decrease in serotonin, which results in your child feeling poorly about themselves. This is really important, when we see these postural changes, it stresses our kids out and they feel badly about themselves. So what are we as parents able to do to help our children?
We need to teach our children proper backpack safety. As teachers and parents, we can help our kids better manage the weight of their bookbags. Any book bag that weighs more than 15% of a child’s body weight is too much and can damage their developing spine. Let me repeat that – no more than 15% of their weight!
Well, if your child weighs 50 pounds, they should not carry any more than 7.5 pounds. So look at these little girls, they are definitely carrying more than 15% of their body weight. Actually, 10-13 year olds, on average, carry a book bag that weight 25.3 pounds, which is 3 times their recommended load!
So teachers, make this a little math lesson for your students. Parents, you can do the same at home. Weigh your children. Then weigh their bookbag. If you have to have the child wear the book bag to see the difference in weight, then do that. But do the math to find out what percentage of their body weight is the bookbag.
To help accomplish this, every Sunday, empty your child’s book bag of everything that is not necessary.
Additionally, we need to make sure we’re wearing the book bags properly. Check the straps for proper placement across both shoulders. Also, choose a book bag that has padded straps, otherwise, the straps dig into the shoulders and as you can imagine, that can be very uncomfortable…hello bra straps!
The bottom of the book bag should be 2 inches above the waist line and should rest in the curve of the low back. You can see the difference in this picture below. The pic on the right, the book bag is too low, leading to greater compensations. So tighten the straps to raise the book bag for a much stronger posture.
Additionally, we need to use BOTH straps. Don’t purchase a book bag without two straps. Teach your child that wearing both straps keeps them healthy and strong. This is a nice illustration to show you what happens on the inside while wearing just one strap, this is magnified if you’re dealing with a lot of weight. That stress on the spine WILL effect the nervous system and impact overall health, maybe not obvious now, but perhaps your child will become one of the adults that come into my office in their late 20s or 30s with unrelenting back pain and other health problems with no obvious cause.
So, to help offset those times that a heavy book bag can’t be avoided, we should be practicing spinal hygiene exercises to strengthen our spine. Those exercises are available by download below.
Additionally, if you’re child is not under regular chiropractic wellness care, or if they have never seen a chiropractor, then take a close look at their posture. You want to check your child’s head and shoulders at least once a month to determine if there are any early signs of repetitive stress on their growing spine and nervous system. Taking a close look at this little fellow, he has a shoulder imbalance, that translates to a difference in how his hands hang at his side, one side is longer than the other. His eyes are also uneven, and he’s rotating his head to his right. If you are noticing any asymmetries in your child’s posture, it’s a clear sign that there is stress on the nervous system that needs to be further evaluated by a pediatric chiropractor. It is NOT a matter of having your child stand up straighter, because by the time these postural changes occur it means that neurological changes have already set in.
The same goes for the hormonal changes I covered earlier: increase in cortisol, decrease in testosterone, decrease in serotonin, these changes are driven by a STRESSED neurology. It’s a protective response, yet just like in sports, where you cannot score while you’re playing defense, our bodies cannot be in growth while they are consumed with protection, and our children definitely need to be experiencing a neurology that is more concerned with growth than protection. And that’s truly where chiropractic comes into your child’s HEALTH care.
In our office, we actually have testing that can demonstrate to you as the patient and parent where stress exists within your nervous system. We are committed to doing these test regularly through care so that we can continuously monitor progress and adjust our recommendations appropriately. Your child’s health is just as important to me as it is to you, so for that reason, I’m never going to guess at what may be happening, I’ll use objective testing to know for sure and always share that information with you.
Parents whose children are under regular chiropractic wellness care report the following benefits:
- Improve sleep
- Improved immune function
- Improved behavior
- Improved concentration
- Improved grades
All of that from children who receive regular chiropractic care!
So if your child has not yet been evaluated by a pediatric chiropractor, then I have a special offer for you. During the month of September, we are offering you the opportunity to have your child’s spine evaluated for just $97. That will save you $50 from our typical fees. And we’ll include a complementary review of findings, so that we can review any significant findings as well as our recommendations to help your child grow and develop optimally so they can be their best self. Give our office a call to schedule, and mention this Back 2 School special to receive the discount. We’re looking forward to helping your child!