Backpacks are a popular and practical way for children and teenagers to carry schoolbooks and supplies. They are designed to distribute the weight of the load among some of the body’s strongest muscles. When used correctly, backpacks can be a good way to carry the necessities of the school day.
As kids return to school this month, parents should not wait for them to complain about back pain. Instead, they should pay attention to their child’s posture and keep an attentive eye on all of the items that are loaded into his/her backpack each day.
Experts recommend that kids carry no more than 10 to 15 percent of their body weight, but that doesn’t always seem to be the case.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 13,700 kids, ages 5-18 years old, were treated in hospitals and doctors’ offices for injuries related to backpacks.
Dr. Kathryn McCarthy of Arkansas Specialty Orthopaedics, who subspecializes in orthopaedic surgery of the spine, offers the following safety tips to help eliminate pain and discomfort due to backpacks:
- Always use both shoulder straps to keep the weight of the backpack better distributed.
- Tighten the straps and use waist strap if the bag has one.
- Remove or organize items if too heavy and place biggest items closest to the back.
- Lift properly and bend at the knees to pick up a backpack.
- Carry only those items that are required for the day; leave books at home or school, if possible.
Parents also can help with backpack-related pain:
- Encourage your child or teenager to tell you about pain or discomfort that may be caused by a heavy backpack, like numbness or tingling in the arms or legs.
- Purchase a backpack appropriate for the size of your child and look for any changes in your child’s posture when he or she wears the backpack.
- Watch your child put on or take off the backpack to see if it is a struggle. Do not ignore red marks on the shoulders if your child or teenager expresses discomfort.
- Talk to the school about lightening the load. Keep the load under 10-15 percent of the child’s bodyweight.
- Be sure the school allows students to stop at their lockers throughout the day.
Teachers can help by following these tips:
- When planning lessons, take into consideration ways to lighten a child’s backpack load.
- Allow enough time for kids to stop by their lockers to drop off books.