By: KENDALL ASBELL
In seventh grade I was like most middle-schoolers, I wanted to be ‘cool’ and popular. I wore sketchers shoes, bell-bottom pants (it was 1999), and loosened my backpack straps so the bottom of my bag sagged.
Conforming to modern fashion trends and styles signaled to other students that I was “in the know.”
At the end of most class days I would walk home with friends, and these walks were quite enjoyable. But, ironically, I enjoyed those days that I walked home alone even more. Finally I could stop being cool for a minute and just be comfortable.
The first thing I did was hike my backpack up as tight as the straps could go to relieve myself of the pain and tension growing in my neck and shoulders. I didn’t look cool when I did this and I was embarrassed. I remember keeping a lookout for cars driving by and loosening my straps before I was in view.
I was more concerned with how I looked than how comfortable I was.
But, we are not in middle school anymore. It seems that most students around IU South Bend do not realize this and continue to put more effort into what is deemed cool rather than what is comfortable. For many, college is about new beginnings and transitioning into adulthood. As such, it is a time when we should discard what we—or society more broadly—deems as cool for what is healthy.
Although most of us are still relatively young and possess an air of invincibility, we should begin to start prepping our bodies for the future. This means taking the time to learn about ways that we can positively impact our health.
Christine Hawkins has worked as a family nurse practitioner for 17 years and works at IUSB’s Health and Wellness Center. She said that she has seen more young people come into her office with neck and shoulder pain seeking treatment in the last three years than ever before in her 17 years of practice.
Jenny Deranek has worked with athletes and in sports medicine for several years and is an assistant professor in the Vera Z. Dwyer College of Health Sciences. She said she notices most students around campus are wearing their backpacks incorrectly—either having them too low or swung over one shoulder. Both Hawkins and Deranek warn of the potential health risks that such fashion choices pose.
Deranek points to two primary health risks that can occur when people wear their backpacks low: kyphosis and lordosis. These disorders become more pronounced as we age. Kyphosis is when your shoulders begin to round forward, giving you almost a hunchback-like appearance. The problem lies in the thoracic part of the spine, which includes your neck and the top of your shoulders. After years of hunching over on cells phones and crippling our backs with heavy loads, our bodies begin to change and compensate for the unnatural strains that we inflict upon ourselves.
Lordosis affects the lumbar part of the spine, which is the lowest section of the spine. If you are not hunching from the weight and position of your backpack, you are most likely jutting your hips forward causing you to disengage your lower back muscles and hip flexors—the muscles that are in the area of your “love-handles.” Basically this causes you to develop less muscle in your abs.
Since escaping college without a heavy backpack load seems nearly impossible, we must do what we can to help our bodies handle this weight. Both Deranek and Hawkins suggest stretching, exercise and applying heat to affected areas for 20 minutes at a time. Performing neck roles and stretching your hamstrings (the back area of your thighs) will help loosen tight muscles. Exercises that work your abs and back muscles will also help you combat future health problems.
If you are unsure what to do, you can always make an appointment at the Health and Wellness Center located in the Student Activities Center. Appointments only cost around $20-$30 and they can write you prescriptions or set you up with an exercise plan at the gym to help you learn the gym equipment and what would best benefit you.
Also located in the SAC are locker rooms on the bottom floor, great to use if you spend a lot of time on campus but don’t have a car in which to store your books. For only $15 or $30 a semester—depending the size—you can rent a locker and avoid carrying heavy loads of books.
Fashion trends come and go, but our bodies remain with us for life. In the end what is really cool is staying healthy and treating our bodies with respect.