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  • Emma Green, PT

Back To School: 7 Back Pack Tips

When you move your child's backpack after he or she drops it at the door, does it feel like it contains 40 pounds of rocks? Maybe you've noticed your child struggling to put it on, bending forward while carrying it, or complaining of pain, tingling or numbness.


Many things can lead to back pain — like playing sports or exercising a lot, poor posture while sitting, and long periods of inactivity. But some kids have backaches because they're lugging around their entire locker's worth of books, school supplies, and personal items all day long.


If you've been concerned about the effects that extra weight might have on your child's still-growing body, your instincts are correct.


Backpacks that are too heavy can cause a lot of problems for kids, like back and shoulder pain, and poor posture. While we wait for solutions like digital textbooks to become widespread, there are things you can do to help prevent injury.


While it's common these days to see children carrying as much as a quarter of their body weight, doctors and physical therapists recommend that children should carry no more than 15% in their back packs.


When a heavy backpack is incorrectly placed on the shoulders, the weight's force can pull a child backward. To compensate, the child might bend forward at the hips or arch the back. This can make the spine compress unnaturally, leading to shoulder, neck, and back pain.

Kids who wear their backpacks over just one shoulder — as many do, because they think it looks better or just feels easier — may end up leaning to one side to offset the extra weight. They might develop lower and upper back pain and strain their shoulders and neck.

Improper backpack use can also lead to bad posture. Girls and younger kids may be especially at risk for backpack-related injuries because they're smaller and may carry loads that are heavier in proportion to themselves.


When selecting a backpack, look for:

· An ergonomic design

· The correct size: never wider or longer than your child's torso and never hanging more than 4 inches below the waist

· Padded back and shoulder straps

· Hip and chest belts to help transfer some of the weight to the hips and torso

· Multiple compartments to better distribute the weight

· Compression straps on the sides or bottom to stabilize the contents

· Reflective material


Remember: A roomy backpack may seem like a good idea, but the more space there is to fill, the more likely your child will fill it. Remember, make sure your child uses both straps when carrying the backpack. Using one strap shifts the weight to one side and causes muscle pain and posture problems.


Help your child determine what is absolutely necessary to carry. If it's not essential, leave it at home.


What About Backpacks on Wheels?

They are so common these days, they're almost cool. But, doctors and physical therapists are not giving them a strong endorsement. The reason being, to pull one along still causes a twisting motion of the spine.


So, pick up that pack from time to time, and let your children know you've got their back.




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