Backpack Safety for Back to School

Part I of Back to School Series

It is back to school time…..Do you have kids who will be carrying heavy books to and from school?  With recent trends in going paperless, many schools will be teaching internet based curriculum.  This is a good thing, because adolescents are amongst the fastest growing population for increased incidence of back pain.

Why are kids getting back pain?  Studies have shown that some causes are:  quick progression in sports or exercise, poor posture while sitting, and long periods of inactivity.  What about heavy backpacks?  Some kids have backache because they are carrying around an entire locker worth of books, school supplies and assorted personal items all day.  Most doctors and physical therapists recommend that kids carry no more than 10% to 15% of their body weight in their packs.  Hopefully, this will change with technology.  Taking books out of our backpacks will help, but this will not eliminate the hauling of athletic gear and musical instruments to/from school.   These items are awkward and don’t usually come with two straps for safe carrying.

When a heavy load, such as a backpack filled with school supplies, is incorrectly placed on the shoulders, the weight’s force can pull a child backward.  To compensate, a child may bend forward at the hips or arch the back, which can cause the spine to compress unnaturally. Heavy imbalances on the spine of an underdeveloped body may lead to shoulder, neck, and back pain.

backpack one shoulder

poor backpack fit

Helpful hints from AAOS

When choosing a backpack, look for some of the following features to help alleviate some of the above mentioned pain:

  • Wide, padded shoulder straps
  • Two shoulder straps
  • Padded back
  • Waist strap
  • Lightweight backpack
  • Rolling backpack

*Avoid using over the shoulder bags and messenger bags

 

To prevent injury when using a backpack, remember the following:

  • Always use both shoulder straps
  • Tighten the straps so that the backpack does not hang lower not lower than the pelvis
  • Pack light
  • Lift properly
  • Build muscle strength

Parents can help by:

  • Encouraging their children to tell them about pain or discomfort that may be caused by a heavy backpack.
  • Talking to the school about lightening the load.
  • Ensuring the school allows students to stop at their lockers throughout the day.
  • Teaming up with other parents to encourage changes.
  • Encouraging regular exercise especially if their child does not play sports

Stretching exercises can help children prevent back (pack) pain:

Stretching handout by the California Chapter Physical Therapy Association

Give these tips a try to help kids start the year off right!

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