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Tips from the Experts

Backpack Safety

With the beginning of another school year comes the all important decision of which backpack to buy. School children today have the tremendous benefits of an astounding variety of classes and curriculum

With the beginning of another school year comes the all important decision of which backpack to buy. School children today have the tremendous benefits of an astounding variety of classes and curriculum, but for some, this may come with the price of physical pain.

More than 40 million students carry backpacks in America today. Many of these same students carry their backpacks overloaded or improperly resulting in a variety of injuries including neck pain, muscle spasms, tingling hands headaches and lower back pain. This vary pain may result in the increasing possibility of damage on posture and development of the spine. In 2000 the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported nearly 13,000 children were seen in emergency rooms for backpack related injuries.

As parents there are a number of important issues you need to know in order to prevent backpack injury and promote spinal health. When choosing a new backpack, it’s recommended you select ergonomically designed features that enhance safety and comfort.

Picking the Backpack: Here are 7 tips on choosing the best pack for your child.

  1. A padded back will minimize direct pressure on the back.
  2. Wide padded shoulder straps which will not hinder circulation to the arms which may cause numbness and tingling.
  3. Waist and chest belts to transfer some weight from the back and shoulders to the trunk and pelvis.
  4. Multiple compartments to better distribute the weight in the backpack.
  5. Reflective material to enhance visibility at night.
  6. Lightweight backpack
  7. Correct Size selection of the pack is important as packs come in different sizes for different age children

Loading the Backpack: Follow these simple rules.

  1. 15% Maximum Weight: This means a child who weighs 100 pounds shouldn't wear a loaded school backpack heavier than 15 pounds
  2. Load heaviest items closest to the child's back.
  3. Arrange books and materials securely.
  4. Pack only necessary items that you will need for the school day.
  5. If the backpack is too heavy, consider using a book bag on wheels.

Wearing the Backpack:

Wear both straps: By wearing two shoulder straps, the weight of the backpack is better distributed, and a well-aligned symmetrical posture is promoted.

Tighten the straps: Adjust the shoulder straps so that the pack fits snugly to the child's back while still allowing the pack to be put on and taken off easily. A pack that hangs loosely from the back can pull the child backwards and strain muscles.

Put on and remove backpacks carefully. Keep the trunk of your body stable and avoid excessive twisting.

Wear the backpack over the strongest mid-back muscles. Pay close attention to the way the backpack is positioned on the back. It should rest evenly in the middle of the back near the child's center of gravity, and should not extend below the belt for than a couple of inches.

Lift properly using your legs and both hands applying one strap and then the other.

Encourage activity. Children who are active tend to have better muscle flexibility and strength, which makes it easier to carry a backpack.

Once you have taken the proper steps in choosing, packing and wearing the backpack the ongoing assessment of your effort begins. It is extremely important to encourage your child or teenager to tell you about pain or discomfort that may be caused by a heavy backpack. Don’t ignore any back pain. If necessary, talk to your child and teachers to ensure that what your child is hauling back and forth to school is truly what is necessary. It may also necessary to explain to your child that the schedule usually allows students to stop at their lockers throughout the day. Thus, giving them time to unload and reload the necessary books and supplies. If all else fails, one may always consider buying a second set of textbooks for your student to keep at home. As this may seem unrealistic, it is a very simple solution for a child with significant pain. If you or someone you know suffers from pain as described above, it is ill-advised to begin a new exercise program without consulting first with your Physician, a physical therapist, certified athletic trainer, chiropractor, physiatrist or other spine specialist who regularly treats back pain. It is important to first get an accurate diagnosis for the cause of pain, as the specific exercises recommended will depend on the cause. If you would like to consult a physical therapist about an ergonomic evaluation, contact your local physical therapy clinic.