Carrying heavy backpacks are common among school age children and that’s a problem. I know this because I’m a Chiropractor and a mom to two teenagers.
But here are the facts to back me up on this problem and how to prevent back problems for children.
According to a study conducted by the Simmons College Graduate Program in Physical Therapy, over 55 percent of teenagers carry backpacks that are over 15% of their body weight, a limit that is recommended by American Chiropractic Association as well as American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. By the end of their teen years, for example, more than half of youths experience at least one low back episode and according to the research, this increase may be due, at least in part, to improper use of backpacks.
So what should you do? Here are some helpful tips on carrying backpacks properly.
- Make sure your child’s backpack weighs no more than 5 to 10 percent of his or her body weight. A heavier backpack will cause your child to bend forward in an attempt to support the weight on his or her back, rather than on the shoulders, by the straps.
- Buy an appropriate size backpack. The backpack should never hang more than four inches below the waistline. A backpack that hangs too low increases the weight on the shoulders, causing your child to lean forward when walking.
- A backpack with individualized compartments helps in positioning the contents most effectively. Make sure that pointy or bulky objects are packed away from the area that will rest on your child’s back.
- Bigger is not necessarily better. The more room there is in a backpack, the more your child will carry-and the heavier the backpack will be.
- Urge your child to wear both shoulder straps. This will better distribute the weight. Even though hanging one strap over one shoulder might be considered “cooler” , lugging the backpack around by one strap can cause the disproportionate shift of weight to one side, leading to neck and muscle spasms, as well as low-back pain.
- Wide, padded straps are very important. Non-padded straps are uncomfortable, and can dig into your child’s shoulders.
- The shoulder straps should be adjustable so the backpack can be fitted to your child’s body. Straps that are too loose can cause the backpack to dangle uncomfortably and cause spinal misalignment and pain.
- If the backpack is still too heavy, talk to your child’s teacher. Ask if your child could leave the heaviest books at school, and bring home only lighter hand-out materials or workbooks.
- Help your child sort through everything before packing up and see what can be left home that day. Place heaviest items in first, the closer they are to a child’s back, the less strain they’ll put on those muscles.
- Proper backpack lifting tips: Make sure your kids bend their knees when they first lift their packs, to avoid further strain on their back muscles. 1) Face the backpack before you lift it. 2) Bend at the knees. 3) Using both hands, check the weight of the pack. 4) Lift with your legs, not your back. 5) Carefully put one should strap on at a time; never sling the pack onto one shoulder.
- Although the use of rollerpacks -or backpacks on wheels – has become popular in recent years, only those students who are physically able to carry a backpack should use them cautiously and on a limited basis. The plastic frame and wheels add extra pounds to the rollerpacks and they may be heavy to carry when they need to – like on and off school buses and up and down the stairwells. Some school districts have begun banning the use of rollerpacks because they clutter hallways, resulting in dangerous trips and falls.
Hope these tips are helpful for those kids who are going back to school this Fall. By the way, these tips are also appropriate for those of you who carry heavy purses. You should check to see what you can discard from your purse and sort through them to lighten the load on your shoulder. Carrying a heavy purse on one shoulder creates the same problems as those students who carry their heavy backpacks on one shoulder.
Image: American Chiropractic Association