One of the most important components in any student’s back-to-school wardrobe is the backpack. Choosing the right one can set the tone for the rest of the year. UGA or ‘Bama? Captain America or Ironman? Zebra or cheetah? These are crucial decisions. What is often lost in the selection process is the importance of choosing a backpack that is built for safety.
“Backpacks can be really practical,” says
Anne Lule, M.D., Floyd pediatrician, “but, if they’re too heavy or if they are used incorrectly, they can put a strain on muscles and joints and may cause back pain.”
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 24,000 people were treated for backpack-related injuries in 2012. More than 9,500 of those injuries were in children between the ages of 5 to 18.
“If worn incorrectly, a heavy pack’s force will pull a child backward,” Dr. Lule says. “If they lean forward to compensate, the spine can compress unnaturally.”
Backpacks are designed to distribute the weight carried across the body’s strongest muscles. Strains and problems with posture can occur when the packs are worn incorrectly. The most popular style of carrying the backpack over one shoulder causes the weight to be distributed unequally, which can lead to back pain.
The American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons offers some suggestions for backpack usage:
- Kids should carry no more than 15 to 20 percent of their body weight.
- Both straps should be used to keep the weight better distributed, and shoulder straps should be adjusted to keep the load close to the back.
- Heavier items should be removed or organized to place them low and toward the center of the pack.
- Students should bend at the knees when lifting backpacks.
- If possible, only those items needed for the day should be carried. Other books should be left at home or in a locker or storage bin.
Dr. Lule offers additional tips parents can follow to help children avoid backpack related pain:
- Purchase a backpack appropriate for the size of your child.
- Choose a lightweight backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps, a padded back for increased comfort and a waist belt, if possible.
- Watch your child put on or take off the backpack to see whether it is a struggle.
- Encourage your child to place heavier books in their locker while at school.
- Encourage your child to let you know if they experience any numbness, pain or tingling in the arms, legs, neck, shoulders or back.
Dr. Lule stresses that if a child experiences any of those symptoms, parents should contact a
Floyd physician who treats children.