Every year children suffer from back pain or spine trauma caused by overloaded or improperly used backpacks. Backpacks are a leading cause of back and shoulder pain for millions of children. As the new school year starts, here are some important tips about backpack safety.
First, consider is the size of the backpack. A properly fitted backpack should extend from approximately two inches below the neck to waist level. Additionally, look for a backpack with a padded back and wide, padded shoulder straps. Narrow straps tend to
dig into the shoulders, leading to tingling, numbness, or weakness in the arms and hands due to circulation and nerve compression. A chest belt is also recommended. The chest belt helps pull the shoulder straps closer together relieving some of the posterior pull on your shoulders. When used properly, it can help to distribute the weight more evenly across the body and reduce fatigue and pressure put on the nerves of the shoulder.
Use proper lifting technique when putting on a backpack consisting of bending at the knees and lifting with your legs keeping the pack close to your body. Do not bend at the waist using your back. Put the pack on your back and adjust the shoulder straps so they hold the pack against your back
. Loose shoulder straps tend to pull you backward creating excess stress on the spine. Make sure your child uses both straps when carrying the backpack. Carrying a bag over one shoulder shifts the weight to one side and causes muscle pain and posture problems. Buckle the chest strap and tighten until the shoulder straps are pulled comfortably inwards from your shoulders. This will help prevent the restriction of blood flow and allow your arms to move more freely.
Overloading is another major safety concern. It’s estimated that over 60% of children routinely carry backpacks that weigh more than 10% of their body weight. This is a big deal because researchers have found that carrying heavy backpacks increases the risk of back pain in children by a whopping 50%. Use a bathroom scale to weigh your child’s backpack. A backpack should not weigh more than 10% to 15% of body weight. That means a child weighing 100 lbs. should not be carrying more than 10-15 lbs. Encourage kids to use their locker instead of carrying books not needed until later in the day. When packing your backpack, put the heaviest items against the back of the pack. This will help maintain a neutral posture by reducing the posterior shift in their center of gravity and greatly reduce muscle strain. Additionally, make sure objects are evenly distributed so they don’t shift while moving. If after all this the backpack is still too heavy, consider a book bag on wheels.
Lastly, encourage your child to report any pain or other problems resulting from carrying a backpack. If the pain is severe or persistent, seek care from a qualified health care professional trained in structural correction. Following these simple rules will help reduce the potential for injury and fatigue and ensure your child has a safe and productive school year.