(Taken from the Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America-POSNA)
Backpacks are a popular and practical way for children and teenagers to carry schoolbooks and supplies. When used correctly, backpacks can be a good way to carry the necessities of the school day. They are designed to distribute the weight of the load among some of the body’s strongest muscles.
Risk factors/ Prevention
Backpacks that are too heavy or are worn incorrectly can cause problems for children and teenagers. Improperly used backpacks may injure muscles and joints. This can lead to severe back, neck, and shoulder pain, as well as posture problems. These guidelines can help your family use backpacks safely.
Choose the right backpack. Look for the following:
- Wide, padded shoulder straps. Narrow straps can dig into the shoulders. This can cause pain and restrict circulation.
- Two shoulder straps. Backpacks with one shoulder strap cannot distribute the weight evenly.
- Padded back. A padded back protects against sharp edges on objects inside the pack and increases comfort.
- Waist strap. A waist strap can distribute the weight of a heavy load more evenly.
- Lightweight backpack. The backpack itself should not add much weight to the load.
- Rolling backpack. This type of backpack may be a good choice for students who must tote a heavy load. Remember, rolling backpacks must be carried upstairs.
To prevent injury when using a backpack, do the following:
- Always use both shoulder straps. Slinging a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles.
- Tighten the straps so that the pack is close to the body. The straps should hold the pack two inches above the waist.
- Pack light. The backpack should NEVER weigh more than 20% of the student’s total body weight.
- Organize the backpack to use all of its compartments. Pack heavier items closest to the center of the back.
- Stop often at school lockers and remove items you don’t need, if possible. Do not carry all of the books needed for the day.
- Bend using both knees, when you bend down. Do not bend over at the waist when wearing or lifting a heavy backpack.
- Learn back strengthening exercises to build up the muscles used to carry a backpack.
Parents also can help in the following ways:
Do not ignore any back pain in your child or teenager.
Ask your child to stop at their lockers mid-day to exchange books.
Consider buying a second set of books for your student to keep at home if they have difficulty managing the load.
Please contact your school nurse if you have any concerns or questions.