Children and teenagers heading back to school are filling their backpacks with textbooks, pens, pencils, cell phones, tablet computers, sports equipment and more. As they get older, those backpacks get heavier and heavier. If your child sometimes complains of neck and shoulder pain, it could be time to find ways to lighten their load.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, hospitals and doctors treat more than 7,300 injuries each year which are directly related to backpacks. Those injuries include sprains, bruises, fractures, and neck, back and shoulder pain. Another study in the Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics found that 64 percent of 11 to 15-year-olds who regularly carried backpacks to school reported some degree of pain. While there is little danger of long-term damage to growing children’s bodies, backpacks can injure muscles and joints, as well as cause posture problems.
A youngster’s backpack should weigh 10 to 20 percent of the child’s body weight, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. (For example, a 100-pound child should carry a backpack totaling less than 20 pounds.) Many experts suggest a more conservative approach, favoring as little as 10 percent — particularly for younger children or those who are not as physically fit.
To keep your students safe and pain-free, begin by choosing a high-quality backpack designed specifically for children. Have them try on the backpack to make sure it fits snugly into the curve of their back. Choose a backpack with:
- Two wide, well-padded shoulder straps. Padding reduces stress on the shoulder. Also, two straps more evenly distribute the weight across the body than those with only one strap. If the backpack also has a waist strap, use it to better spread the load.
- Easily adjustable straps. The pack needs to fit snugly against the child’s body to minimize excess movement, so make sure to pull the straps tight yet comfortable.
- Padded back for increased comfort and reduced exposure to sharp edges.
- Construction of lightweight materials.
- Plenty of compartments. The more sections you can use, the better you can distribute the weight of items inside the backpack.
- Reflective materials (if you need to make your child more visible after dark)
Check to see whether your school allows students to use a rolling backpack. These can be a useful option to reduce the strain of large cargo. However, it may be difficult to fit a wheeled backpack into a locker or carry it up multiple flights of stairs.
Next, help your child load the backpack for maximum efficiency.
- Put the heaviest items at the rear of the pack, where the child’s back will better support the extra weight.
- Pack books and other items so they will not slide around. If the backpack seems too heavy, pull out a book or bulky item that they can carry in their hand.
- Remove any unnecessary contents. Make sure the child only carry items to and from school that are really needed for the day’s activities or overnight homework. If they don’t need a book, they should leave it in their locker at school.
- Make frequent stops at their locker to reduce the weight they carry between classes during the day.
- Check the fully-loaded backpack on your bathroom scale to be sure the weight is under the 20 percent guideline.
Finally, make sure your child wears the backpack properly. Free-swinging backpacks or poorly balanced weight can cause bruises and shoulder pain – and may cause a child to lose his or her balance and fall. Teach them to bend at the knees rather than at the waist while wearing a backpack. They should also use their legs to lift the backpack as they put it on one strap at a time.
Backpacks are a great tool to help your child transport books, pencils, sweaters and other items back and forth to school. With a little extra planning, you can keep them safe and healthy while benefiting from this convenience piece of equipment.
For a free physician referral or answers to your general healthcare questions, call 1-800-447-8206 or visit www.OsceolaRegional.com.