How to Avoid Backpack Injuries

Backpack AwarenessNobody ever said that being a parent is an easy job. You have to keep an eye on everything. Are they eating enough vegetables? Getting enough exercise? Spending too much time on their computer? With all the things you need to monitor in a day to keep your kids healthy and safe, it would be easy to overlook this one: Are their backpacks too heavy?

But the truth is, it’s something we should be thinking about each morning as we send them off to school, since backpack injuries are common in school-aged children. In fact, one in four students admit to having back pain for 15 days or more during the school year.

Dangers of an Overloaded Backpack

Heavy backpacks and book bags can lead to back, neck or shoulder pain and injury as well as long-term muscle, skeletal and nerve damage, including:

• Muscle spasms
• Scoliosis
• Spine injury
• Strain leading to headaches

ScienceDaily likens it to firefighters and soldiers carrying heavy occupational gear and notes this everyday reality for school children as a serious concern with serious potential risks. Backpack injuries have become such a widespread problem that some states have even passed legislation to “lighten the load.” With the average textbook weighing 3 ½ pounds, most schools are trying to find ways to address it, like switching to electronic text books and encouraging kids to leave unneeded items at school. The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) has even headed up National School Backpack Awareness Day to teach safety tips to avoid injury.

Backpack Safety Tips

Thousands of children are treated each year for backpack-related injuries. How can you make sure your child isn’t one of them? We’ve got some tips.

Keep an Eye on Weight

A loaded backpack should never weigh more than 10 percent of your child’s body weight. That means if your child weighs 100 pounds, their backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 10 pounds. If your child is struggling to get the backpack on or off, has red marks on their shoulders from the straps, has to lean forward to carry the pack, or complains of back pain or tingling arms and fingers, it’s probably too heavy.

Choose the Right Size

A first-grader needs a smaller bag than a teenager, that’s why they come in age-appropriate sizes. You should look for the smallest backpack that can fit your child’s needs. The bigger the backpack, the more likely they are to keep stuffing things in. You might also consider a cross-body bag as an alternative.

Look for Added Comfort Features

Your best bet is to find a lightweight bag with wide, well-padded adjustable shoulder straps, a padded back and a waist strap. Multiple compartments can also help arrange items so they don’t shift around as much.

Pack the Bag Properly

Load the heaviest items first, so they rest closest to your child’s back. Arrange books and materials so they don’t slide around. Pack only what your child absolutely needs. If necessary, have your child carry a book or two by hand to avoid breaking the 10 percent weight rule.

Carry the Bag Correctly

To ensure weight is distributed evenly, backpacks should always be worn on both shoulders, with the waist belt buckled. Adjust the shoulder and waist straps so that the pack fits snugly. The backpack should rest evenly in the middle of the back and should never be more than four inches below the waistline (if it’s resting on their bottom, it’s too low).

Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center

Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center treats all types of shoulder, neck and back injuries. Schedule an appointment to see an Emory specialists today.

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