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Is Your Child's Backpack Too Heavy?

Here are some tips to help ease your child’s backpack burden.

School is in full swing now and students everywhere are slinging their very full backpacks over their shoulders and heading off to school.

When used properly, backpacks provide a practical way for students to carry their books and supplies. When used incorrectly, they can cause injuries to muscles and joints that can lead to severe back, neck and shoulder pain, as well as affect posture.

Nationwide, about 10,000 school-aged children visit doctors or emergency rooms annually complaining of backpack related injuries.

The students of today it seems have many more things to carry than those of yesteryear. Heavy text books, band instruments, and sports equipment, along with laptops, cell phones and other electronics, seems to fill the packs to the brim each having its own compartment. Backpacks have gone through some changes, thankfully, and now many are designed to take the load off a student’s back. Parents still need to check though to make sure there is not too much weight inside and that the child is wearing it properly.  

A backpack’s weight should not exceed 10-15 percent of a child’s total body weight and should match the length of the child’s torso. The American Physical Therapy Association and American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons give five warning signs that a backpack is too heavy:

  1. Student struggling to put on or take off the backpack
  2. Pain when wearing the backpack
  3. Tingling or numbness in the shoulders, arms or hands
  4. Red marks left on shoulders by shoulder straps
  5. Noticeable changes in child’s posture

A backpack should never hang more than four inches below the waistline. A backpack that hangs too low increases the weight on the shoulders. The straps are important! Urge your child to use both shoulder straps. Often times, kids will throw the backpack over one shoulder. Lugging the backpack around on one strap can cause a disproportionate shift of weight to one side, leading to neck and muscle spasms, as well as low-back pain. Make sure the shoulder straps are wide and adjustable. Straps that are too loose can cause the backpack to dangle which could cause misalignment of the spine and pain.

Here are some additional tips to help your student:

  • The pack should rest evenly in the middle of the back
  • Pack flat items where they will rest on the back, with bulky items away from the back
  • Heaviest items should be closest to the back
  • Use the waist straps
  • Consider using separate packs for separate activities
  • Only bring those items needed for that day
  • Encourage your child to use both shoulder straps
  • Consider a backpack on wheels
  • Consider a second set of books to be kept at home
  • Reduce the load by having child carry a heavier book in his/her arms.
  • Utilize the separate compartments so weight can be evenly distributed.

If after following the suggestions, it appears your child’s neck or shoulder pain is disrupting his or her school and home life, an evaluation by a physician or physical therapist is recommended.

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