2004-09-03 / Columnists

Health & Harmony

By Dr. Nancy Gahles


DR. Nancy gahles
DR. Nancy gahles When purchasing school supplies, give a bit of thought to the backpack that your child will be carrying. In my experience, the last several years have brought a dramatic increase in children with back pain, tension headaches, neck pain and scoliosis (curvature of the spine) with the overweight backpack being the main culprit.

Ideally, the backpack should weigh no more than 10-15% of the child’s body weight. For example, a third grader weighing 60 lbs. should carry no more than 9 lbs. in a backpack. Realistically, we run into problems when the homework requires textbooks each night. I suggest that you ask the teacher or principal for an extra set of books to leave at home if your child has difficulty with his/her back. For this child I would also suggest purchasing a smaller size backpack.

The backpack should have padded shoulder straps and padded back straps that fit at the waist and allow for proper distribution of the weight of the pack.

Realistically, fashion rules!

You may be able to get away with this for your kindergarten- third grader but after that, I doubt it. Invariably, the tweens and teens will sling the bag over one shoulder. I cringe when I see the spinal distortions being created before my eyes, the very ones the adults in my office are here to fix.

The only solution I have found to this is to have them put all their lightweight things in the backpack and to carry the textbooks in front, in their arms, the way we used to do when we put a strap around them. Failing this, we have to launch a good defense. That entails doing yoga stretches in the evening to reverse the day’s traumas.

I find that a hot bath with sea salts and a series of 10 Sun Salutations is doable. Do a “parent posture check” every so often and take note if one shoulder seems higher than the other; one hip higher than the other or the head is tilted to one side more than the other. These are all signs of a spinal curvature.

When discovered early the treatment is easy, painless and gives an adolescent an opportunity to have control over their body. I find that they like understanding what and how their musculoskeletal system is working. Further, they love the immediate gratification that proper posture does for their looks. Standing straight and breathing deeply gives one an air of self confidence and a glow of health. Stretching your body is relaxing and removes the accumulated stresses of the day. It gives you an energizing break between dinner and the rest of your homework. A second wind not born of chocolate or soda. I find that kids really like the control over their bodies that they experience through knowledge and application of their movements coordinated with breathing. They come to know themselves a bit better and can discern what works for them and what works against them. In my practice, empowerment is always paramount. From the child to the adult, we all love to be able to feel what is right for us and to have some input into our healthcare solutions. Gone are the days when we did something just because the doctor told us to, even when we didn’t know the why or the wherefore.

My greatest joy is when the little ones come in and tell me exactly where it hurts and why and we discuss the solution. Together. That makes it much easier to implement. We arrive at the plan together. Whether the answer is to eat more green things or to hop 10 times on each foot or to be kind to your Mom, they all know that when they leave with a plan it is one that we both agreed will be good for them.

When we gain control over the small things in life, like carrying a backpack properly, it adds to our experiential database of successes. It lets us believe that if we can achieve small victories, with a little more effort, we can achieve larger ones. As Albert Schweitzer said, “ One who gains strength by overcoming obstacles possesses the only strength which can overcome adversity.”

May The Blessings Be!

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