Back to school means back to books, which is excellent for the mind, but not so much for the back. Americans are carrying around more baggage than ever before - not the emotional kind of baggage either, the physical kind. Carrying the weight of the world on our backs and shoulders is having adverse, long-term effects on our bodies.

Spine-health has become a rising concern in the last several years. Those weighty backpacks that kids are hauling around on their backs are causing disc compression and spine curvatures, all of which lead to an assortment of other painful problems as an adult. Wearing a heavy backpack for prolonged periods may also cause excessive strain in one's neck, back, and shoulders. It can cause stress fractures in the back, inflammation of growth cartilage, back and neck strain, and nerve damage in the neck. Sounds like fun right? Kids are stuffing more and more into their backpacks, and this includes folders, binders, lunch boxes and even those giant, heavy textbooks. As adults, we are guilty of this as well. We stuff things into our purses, work bags and anything else we can carry and we like to call these items “essentials.” What a pain in the neck!

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What can we do to lighten up? Your child’s backpack should only weigh 10-15% of their body weight. A healthy bag makeover is always a great idea. Go through your bags and only tote around the essentials, the actual essentials. If you don't use it, lose it. Talk with your child’s teacher about homework assignments. Suggest assignments that involve less textbook work, so they aren’t dragging the books home unless absolutely necessary. This is also a great time to talk with your school administration about digital textbooks! Children can take empty water bottles to school and fill them up there, reducing the load they carry. Also, make sure your child is wearing their backpack correctly. Adjust their backpack straps, so the bag is being worn to fit closer to the body. Another positive idea for back health is maintaining overall physical fitness and core strength. Not only is physical fitness a great lifestyle to adopt, but it will also help reduce the damage done by our heavy bags.

We can better distribute the load, trust me! Put heavier items in the bag closest to your body and lower in the bag. Backpack straps should be wide, adjustable and padded. Wear the straps on both shoulders always. Men, a wallet makeover is also recommended. Bulky items should sit closer to your body in the wallet. Better yet, ditch your heavy wallet and use a digital wallet. They are pretty much weightless and more accessible to pay with anyway!

With a few preventative steps, we can significantly reduce the load we are all carrying. Invest the time to go over backpack health with your children. Use this time to evaluate your own bags. Lighten the load now and reduce the damage suffered later. Your neck, back, and shoulders will thank you!