Keep Backs and Necks Happy When Heading to School

After over a year of remote learning due to the pandemic, students are back at school for in‐person education. While attending school is a wonderful opportunity for learning, social development, and physical activity, those benefits don’t come without risk. Northwest Orthopaedic Specialists hopes this year’s back‐to‐school time will result in developing student behaviors and habits for healthier bodies that can be maintained for a lifetime.

Don’t Let School Backpacks Be a Burden

Students trudge to school and classrooms lugging the ubiquitous backpack. We’ve all seen them jammed with textbooks, notebooks, lunches and other accoutrements of getting the student through their day.

AdobeStock 263426617

Parents are often shocked by how heavy their child’s backpack weighs, even for young children. These heavy backpacks can cause physical discomfort and even injury if not prevented. No student should have to experience a stiff neck, sore shoulders, and an aching back just to get through the day. Fortunately, there are ways to help.

As a general rule, backpacks shouldn’t weigh more than 10 to 15 percent of a student’s body weight. For example, a 60 pound fifth grader shouldn’t carry more than 6 to 9 pounds. A 130 pound high school junior shouldn’t carry more than 13 to 20 pounds. Give your child’s backpack a weigh and you’ll likely be surprised at what they lug around each day. You can help your child to lighten their backpack load by only carrying the textbooks they need each day and emptying notebooks of papers and materials not required on a given day.

Beyond physical problems caused by weight, how the backpack is carried can also contribute to neck, shoulder, and back pain. Backpacks should be carried on both shoulders to properly distribute the weight across the musculoskeletal structure. Many students sling their heavy backpack over one shoulder which
exacerbates stress and strain on their body.

Thin shoulder straps, loose straps that hang the backpack below the waist, and a backpack that’s sized too small or large for their body can add to the physical problems, as can how the backpack is picked up and removed. Bending the knees when hoisting a backpack is much better than bending over.

AdobeStock 357166079

Look Up to Reduce Injury

Smartphones and computers can help students research and learn, and keep them in touch with their families. However, these benefits can come at a cost. Repetitive neck strain caused by smartphone and computer use are becoming common in youth and adults alike. Looking down at a phone or keyboard drops the head, changing the neck’s natural position. Over an extended time, this can strain muscles and cause overuse injury to the structures of the neck and shoulders.

The neck is designed to hold the weight of the head in a vertical position. For every inch the head drops forward, the weight carried by those muscles, doubles. Dropping the head and resting the chin on the chest when looking at a phone or computer can add 40 to 60 pounds of force to the neck — even for children.

Sitting in a slouched or slumped position limits the lung’s ability to expand, hindering lung capacity and breathing. Less oxygen in the bloodstream forces the heart to pump harder. Who knew that playing computer games or watching YouTube videos on a phone could result in so much physical stress?

AdobeStock 316391509

Slight adjustments to body position and posture can make great improvements to reduce neck and shoulder pain and to increase oxygen intake.

Look forward rather than down. Raising the mobile device to eye level or lifting a computer screen keeps your chin from dropping and putting strain on the neck.

Stand‐up straight. Maintaining good posture isn’t just something parents say to nag their children. Positioning the shoulders directly beneath the ears helps keep the head in balance and reduces stress. Have your child check their posture in a mirror to determine what it feels like when the head is positioned correctly.

Bend over backwards. Arching the head and neck to the rear pulls the shoulders into better alignment. It’s a simple stretch that can be done multiple times a day when texting, browsing social media, or working on a computer. Encouraging your children to make a habit of gentle stretches and posture corrections each day will help them feel and perform better in life and school.

NWOS Has Got Your Back

Your orthopaedic specialists at NWOS want all students (and their parents) to feel better, reduce pain and injury, and use their bodies to the fullest. Simple things like reducing backpack weight and maintaining good neck position when using smartphones and computers will keep students active and pain‐free this school year and throughout life.

Tags: Staying Active, COVID-19, Healthy Habits.