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Avoiding Back Pain from Backpacks
You’ve probably seen a young student struggling with a backpack that appears to weigh as much as she does. It looks almost funny. But doctors say it is no joke when students carry backpacks that are too heavy. In fact, it can set them up for a lifetime of back problems.
Used properly, backpacks are an excellent way to carry heavy loads like books, because they distribute the weight across the abs and shoulders, which are some of strongest muscles in the body. However, even well-designed backpacks can be harmful if they are loaded with too much or worn incorrectly.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that when you are choosing a backpack for your child—from grade school through grad school—you should look for several things:
- Wide, padded shoulder straps. Narrow straps that bite into the shoulders can cause pain and interfere with circulation.
- Two straps. Backpacks or messenger bags with only one strap don’t distribute the weight evenly across the back and abs.
- A padded back, to protect against sharp objects inside the backpack.
- A waist strap, to distribute the weight more evenly.
- Light weight. Choose nylon rather than heavier materials such as leather or canvas.
- A rolling backpack. This can work for children who routinely carry a lot of things or have to walk a long distance. However, remember that your student will have to carry the backpack up and down stairs, and that it can be difficult to roll the pack in snow or over uneven ground.
Once you have chosen the right backpack, you need to teach your child how to use it so as to minimize the possibility of back or neck injury. For example, your child should:
- Use both straps. Putting the backpack over one shoulder can strain the muscles and increase the curvature of the spine.
- Tighten the straps so that the backpack is close to the body and 2 inches above the waist.
- Don’t overload the pack. It should never weigh more than 10 percent to 20 percent of the weight of your student.
- Organize the pack properly. Put the heaviest items closest to the center of the pack, and use all the compartments in the back.
- Try not to carry everything all day. Encourage your student to stop at his or her locker as much as possible.
- Bend at the knees rather than at the waist when lifting up the backpack.
- Use exercises to strengthen the back.
Finally, encourage your child to tell you if he or she is experiencing pain from carrying a heavy backpack. You might be able to take additional steps, such as getting a second set of books that the child can keep at home.