With a new school year starting soon, I thought it was important to spread the word on backpack safety. These days, children come home with backpacks full of gargantuan textbooks and binders overflowing with assignments and homework; which is great from an academic standpoint, but detrimental from a physical health point of view. In this blog post, you will learn how to properly wear a backpack, how to properly pack a backpack and the potential safety risks associated with incorrectly wearing a backpack.
It may be a struggle to get your kids to wear their backpack on both shoulders, especially if they are in high school; but in order to maintain proper posture and avoid injuries, it is imperative that children of all ages utilize both shoulder straps. Also, when purchasing a backpack, make sure that the shoulder straps are padded and adjustable. The extra padding helps take pressure off the shoulders with heavier weight and the straps should be adjusted so the back of the backpack sits right up against your child’s back and the bottom of the backpack sits no lower than 4 inches from the waist to avoid hyperextension of the lumbar spine (low back). If the backpack has a chest and/or hip strap, encourage your child to use them. Use of these additional straps helps distribute the weight of the backpack more evenly and promote better posture.
When packing a backpack, always put the heavier items, like textbooks and large binders, in the back, and lighter items, like spiral notebooks and folders, in the front. Doing this allows the heavier weight to be closer to your child’s body limiting the change in the center of gravity. Be sure to utilize the pockets of the backpack to further distribute the weight of the load. The total weight of the backpack should not exceed 10% of your child’s body weight. Another important thing to remember…keep all sharp items, such as scissors, away from the body! Believe it or not, an improperly worn or overweight backpack can injure your child. Carrying a backpack with one strap instead of two can cause potentially serious posture changes which can lead to chronic back pain into adulthood. Wearing the backpack too low on the back can cause hyperextension of the lumbar spine which can lead to spine and joint degeneration in the low back region. “According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in 2013 nearly 22,000 strains, sprains, dislocations and fractures from backpacks were treated in hospital emergency rooms, physicians’ offices and clinics.” (www.aota.org)
Here are a few warning signs that indicate your child’s backpack is too heavy:
- Pain when wearing the backpack
- Tingling or numbness in the arms or legs
- Difficulty when putting on or taking off the backpack
- Red strap marks over the front of the shoulders
- Any change in side to side posture while wearing the backpack
If your child complains of back, neck, or shoulder pain, especially associated with wearing their backpack, it is imperative to have them evaluated by a chiropractor as soon as possible to prevent any long-term effects such as spine/joint degeneration and chronic pain.