active Release Techniques

Back-to-School Backpack Basics

Chiropractor in Burke, VAAmerican kids are suffering from back pain and neck pain earlier in their lives and in larger numbers than ever before. And if you’re a parent of school-age children, it’s important for you to know that overweight, improperly designed, and misused backpacks may be one of the big reasons for this growing problem.

This isn’t really news. The truth is that healthcare researchers and practitioners around the world have recognized the issue for a long time and have continued to call attention to it. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends that a backpack should not be any heavier than 15% of a child’s body weight, but:

  • In 1999, researchers in Italy reported that about 35% of Italian schoolchildren carried more than 30% of their body weight at least once a week—actually exceeding the limits recommended for adults. The average sixth grader’s backpack was the equivalent of a 39-pound burden for a 176-pound man or a 29-pound burden for a 132-pound woman. And of those children carrying heavy backpacks to school, 60% had experienced back pain as a result.
  • As early as 2001, researchers at Simmons College in Massachusetts found that 55% of the 345 children they studied were carrying backpacks that exceeded the recommended weight limit, often by a substantial amount. One third of those students said that they had already experienced back pain.
  • A 2012 study by researchers in Spain found that 61.4% of 1403 students between the ages of 12 and 17 carried backpacks that weighed more than 10% of their body weight and that those carrying the heaviest backpacks had a 50% higher risk of back pain.

More than Just a Short-Term Health Risk

With an estimated 40 million school-age children carrying backpacks in America, it’s not at all surprising that there are some book bag-related injuries every year. Since 2000, the U.S. Product Safety Commission has reported that children and their backpacks make roughly 7,000 trips to the emergency room annually. However, many observers believe that the real toll is actually far higher since the vast majority of such injuries go unreported and many kids are treated by a family doctor or not treated at all.

It’s not clear how many acute injuries actually result from wearing backpacks as opposed to tripping over them or being hit by them. However, doctors who treat back problems regularly—especially chiropractic physicians—see worrying signs that heavier backpacks are setting the stage for more serious health issues in the future, including chronic back, neck and shoulder pain. Some chiropractors estimate that as many as 75% to 80% of the teenage patients they treat have postural problems directly related to overweight backpacks. This is one reason why the American Chiropractic Association advises parents to limit the weight of a child’s backpack to no more than 5% to 10% of body weight.

What’s Behind the Heavier Backpacks?

In an age of online education and mobile devices, you might be tempted to think that kids’ backpacks would be getting lighter. Not so. Across the past ten years, several factors have come together to increase the amount of weight young students are carrying in their book bags:

  • Increases in the amount of homework being assigned to students at a younger age typically mean more heavy books carried between home and school.
  • A trend toward removing lockers and individual desks from schools in many cases requires kids to carry all their belongings with them during the day.
  • Reduced time between classes or fewer trips to the locker can mean heavier loads for students.
  • Longer school days or increased participation in before-school and after-school activities often translates into more supplies and equipment as well as more time wearing the backpack.A good quality backpack with proper ergonomic features doesn’t have to be expensive. They’re available at many sporting goods stores and discount outlets. Experts offer the following advice:

How to Choose the Right Backpack and Use it Correctly

  • Get the size and fit right first. The right backpack should fit between the top of your child’s shoulders and lower back. Bigger is not better, since having more space available creates the potential for a heavier backpack.
  • Find one with shoulder straps that are wide, padded and adjustable. These distribute the weight more broadly across the shoulders and chest while allowing the backpack to be fitted snuggly to your child’s body.
  • For older students, consider a backpack with chest straps and a hip belt. Chest straps and a hip belt redistribute weight even further and bring the pack closer to the wearer’s body.
  • Look for a padded back that will add comfort and protection.
  • Choose a backpack with multiple smaller compartments. These help distribute the weight inside the bag and keep it stable.

Once your child has the right bag, it’s just as important to encourage him or her to use it correctly. Chiropractors and physical therapists generally agree that means wearing it on both shoulders with the straps tightened so that it hangs no more than four inches below the waist.

Recognizing the Warning Signs

If you see any of the following signs, it may be time to lighten the load, help your child choose a different backpack or talk about how it’s being used.

  • Pain in the back, neck, shoulders or knees
  • Red marks left on shoulders by backpack straps
  • Tingling or numbness in the arms
  • Trouble getting the backpack on or off
  • Bending forward or “hunching over” to shift weight from the shoulders to the back

Asking Your Chiropractor for Help

Under normal circumstances, using a backpack shouldn’t cause any pain or discomfort. If your child is showing signs of back, neck or should pain, we encourage you to call or visit our office today. In addition to addressing any current problems that your child may be experiencing, your chiropractor in Burke, VA can recommend an exercise program designed to strengthen muscles, and improve posture and coordination.

NOVA Chiropractic & Wellness Center
8992 Fern Park Drive BurkeVA22015 USA 
 • (703) 912-7822

Kids and Sports: Should Your Kids Specialize in One Sport?

Over the last twenty years, the landscape of youth sports has changed dramatically. It used to be that children would gather after school and choose (or invent) an activity or game to play until dinnertime. In this world of “free play,” the kids set the rules and managed themselves more or less independently. These days, though, it’s much more common for kids’ sports to be highly organized and stratified, with adults more heavily involved than they were even a generation ago.

The downsides of adult-led, year-round structure

Kids can sometimes be rough-and-tumble, and they can also be cruel. This means that free play can have its share of problems when seen through the eyes of adults who are most concerned about limiting safety and social risks. From their point of view, there are clear advantages to having a neutral adult coach providing instruction and “managing” play. Parents who view free play as an unstructured waste of time may also be drawn to what they see as the more targeted developmental benefits of organized sports, though for slightly different reasons.

It’s important to understand that this shift has come with a cost. Many child development experts now believe that adult-led, year-round structure has deprived children of important opportunities to practice innovation, independence and self-management—including social skills like cooperation and dispute resolution. They also believe it has deprived them of opportunities to learn where the boundary is between good-natured (even competitive) physical play and play that is rough enough to cause real harm. Learning where this boundary is requires live experimentation that entails some risk. This is how children learn how to read and respond to others and to different kinds of situations appropriately.

The up-or-out world of youth athletics

The shift to adult-led, year-round structure has also changed the nature of youth athletics, creating a two-tier system of “recreational” and “competitive” sports where recreation often gets short shrift. This can produce a high-pressure environment for many children, who automatically begin associating athletics with expectations of performance. This sort of environment has the potential to change the relationship between kids and sports in a few different ways. In some cases, it may encourage youngsters of 8 or 9 years (or their parents) to choose a single sport early in their “careers” and to commit to it for the entire year. Children who do not make this early all-or-nothing commitment (even very athletic ones) may find that their playing opportunities dwindle and that they’re stuck in the middle—somewhere between a competitive tier that may demand too much and a recreational one that may offer too little. In other cases, it may discourage children with less obvious talent or less drive to abandon sports altogether.

The impact on health and wellness

This isn’t about nostalgia. It’s about long-term musculoskeletal health and fitness. For earlier generations, sports were more seasonal and it was common for kids to play several different sports throughout the year. Since they didn’t specialize until later (if at all), they tended to become more well-rounded athletes and their physical development tended to be more balanced. And to the extent that different sports require different types of movement and emphasize different muscle groups, it was less likely for a young athlete to suffer overuse injuries. Today, physicians say they are seeing more juvenile athletes come in with repetitive stress injuries. For example, a recent study from the journal Radiology revealed that young baseball pitchers are at risk of an overuse injury of the shoulder known as acromial apophysiolysis, which can lead to long-term and even irreversible consequences as kids grow.

And what about children who opt-out of sports early because of performance pressure or burnout, or because they can’t “keep up” with peers who are developing before them? It may take these children years to rediscover sports. And they may miss out on exactly the types of physical activity that keep them fit and healthy unless they find some other alternatives.

A healthier, more balanced approach to athletics

Most medical doctors and chiropractic physicians would probably agree about the importance of variety when it comes to children’s musculoskeletal health and development. Even more broadly, variety is the key to achieving balanced physical, social and psychological growth. Plus, varying your activities is a great way to prevent boredom and increase enjoyment. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with competition or with working hard to excel at something, especially when it comes to sports and if it’s done for the love of the game. However, we adults should remember to let kids be kids, which means trying out different athletic activities, succeeding at some and failing at others, and learning to enjoy the process every step of the way.

To learn more please visit us at Chiropractor in Burke, VA.

Kids’ Fitness: Stronger Muscles Now Signal Better Health Later

Chiropractor in Burke, VAPreteens are often not the most “forward looking” of individuals. This is why they tend to focus on “here and now” goals—the ones with an immediate payoff—rather than on longer-term ones. When preteens participate in sports or other forms of exercise, the activity itself is usually the reward. For most of them, it’s about having fun and building skills. For some, it may also be about being more attractive, more popular, and more involved with their peers. But it’s NOT typically about their health.

But here’s the interesting thing: The fact that they’re involved in physical activities that help (even incidentally) to build strength now actually increases the likelihood that they will be healthier adults later. That is the essential finding of a new study published in the journal Pediatrics. Working with over 1,400 sixth-graders, the researchers found that those with the strongest muscles had healthier blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and body-fat levels than those who were weaker.

The preteens’ strength was tested using a standardized hand-grip exercise. Blood tests were then performed to detect the kids’ risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. Greater strength was associated with lower blood pressure and blood sugar. In addition, the preteens with greater strength had lower levels of the “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and higher levels of the “good” HDL cholesterol.

These results were directly tied to muscle strength. They remained consistent even when the researchers factored in whether the kids were slimmer, or more physically active. As researcher Paul Gordon says in the study, “Even when you factor in these other things, that association with strength is still there.”

Gordon was quick to point out that their results don’t prove that stronger muscles lead directly to better health, just that they “shed light on the fact that strength may be just as important a predictor of kids’ [health] as aerobic fitness.” The students in the study were divided on the basis of their hand-grip strength into groups of low, moderate, and high strength. Kids in the high strength group had LDL levels that were 10 points lower, and triglyceride levels that were 20-30 points lower than those in the low strength group.

Although kids’ cholesterol levels and blood pressure may not be an immediate health issue for them, Gordon points out that “Kids with risk factors tend to become young adults with risk factors.” Thus, if preteens can be encouraged to participate in more strength-building sports and exercises, they can possibly develop health patterns that will continue into adulthood. This doesn’t mean that kids should be encouraged to “pump iron,” merely that they should engage in more strength training activities.

Many studies have indicated that the combination of strength training and aerobic exercise work better than either of the two alone in reducing weight and blood-sugar levels. This study seems to show that strength training in the young can reduce their adult risk of heart disease and diabetes as well.

To learn more please visit Chiropractor in Burke, VA.


Your Teenager and Back Pain: Why Manual Therapies Are the Best Option

Back Pain TreatmentsLow back pain is a condition that affects more than 600 million people worldwide, including over a third of all Americans. This number exceeds the number of people affected by diabetes, heart disease, and cancer combined. The financial burden (medical care plus lost productivity) caused by chronic lower back pain in America exceeds $550 billion annually.

That said, one of the saddest aspects of chronic lower back pain is that it doesn’t only affect adults. It also affects children and people in their teens and early twenties. And a number of studies have indicated that lower back pain in adolescents is strongly associated with the development of chronic lower back pain later in life. The good news, however, is that those adolescents who have been successfully treated to eliminate lower back pain in their youth have a lower risk of developing chronic lower back pain as they grow older.

So it’s natural that the medical community is interested in which treatments can be considered “successful” in terms of eliminating the lower back pain itself, and helping to prevent it from reoccurring. This interest led to a recent study. The aim of the study was to determine which of the commonly-available treatment methodologies were most effective. To determine this, researchers performed a meta-analysis of existing studies published in English, French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese to measure which of the treatments used in these studies were most effective in producing positive outcomes in terms of pain, disability, flexibility, endurance, and mental health. The researchers found studies that produced data for 11 treatment groups and 5 control groups involving a total of 334 children and adolescents, and then compared the data.

Their findings were both strong and definitive. Of all the treatment methodologies used in the individual studies, the ones most effective in producing short-term and long-term positive outcomes in the five areas studied were those that involved therapeutic physical conditioning and manual therapy. That is, treatments provided by “hands on” practitioners such as chiropractors, osteopaths, and physical therapists.

These therapies, commonly involving joint and spinal manipulation and ultrasound treatment to reduce pain, were subjectively found to be more effective by the patients than other treatments. The patients’ subjective analysis was confirmed in most of the studies by clinician assessments. Naturally, these “manual therapy” treatment options were preferable in many other ways as well, because they avoided reliance on potentially addictive painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin, epidural steroid injections, and surgery.

These findings confirm what Doctors of Chiropractic have observed in their own clinics. Over the years, we have seen many patients (of all ages) benefit from the manual therapies we use to provide relief for their lower back pain. So if you (or your children) experience lower back pain—whether occasional or chronic—contact your chiropractor in Burke, VA and ask him or her to explain to you the treatment options available, and what they can do to relieve your symptoms and allow you to enjoy life free from pain once again.

If you teenager is suffering from back pain or “growing pains” give our office a call at (703) 912-7822 or visit us at Chiropractors in Burke, VA.


By Dr. Todd P. Sullivan