Don't let your child's backpack become a real pain

Self Care, Injury Prevention

African-American Boy with a BackpackIt's hard to believe that school starts in a few weeks, but it's true.

Thousands of children laden with book-filled backpacks make their way to bus stops and school buildings every day.

According to an American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons' report, the Consumer Product Safety Commission estimated more than 24,300 individuals were treated for backpack-related
injuries in 2012. Approximately, 40 percent of those injuries occurred in school-aged children. Remembering a few backpack tips can help you prevent your child from being a backpack-injury-statistic this year.

If your child will be carrying a backpack this year, here are a few tips to keep in mind to make sure your child's pack doesn't cause pain. 

Does your child's backpack fit just right?

1. Use the right-sized backpack for your child. For the best support, fit your child's backpack to the weight-bearing area of your child's back. Measure the distance from the bone at the base of the neck between the shoulder blades (the C7 vertebrae) and the iliac crest at the top of the hip bones. The backpack should fit comfortably between those two points.

2. Make sure the backpack has two, wide, padded, shoulder straps. Narrow straps can create pressure points and cause circulation problems in the shoulders and arms. Wide straps distribute the weight evenly across the shoulders and back to avoid muscle strain.

3. Check the fit. When the straps are tightened, the backpack should be positioned close to your child's back. A pack that tilts backward or is carried too far away from the back can cause muscle strain.

4. Reduce back pressure with a padded pack. Some backpacks have padding on the surface that is placed next to the back. These packs are often more comfortable than unlined packs.

5. Look for a backpack with several compartments. Multiple storage areas help distribute the weight. Extra pockets also provide easy access to frequently used items. 

6. Choose a backpack with hip and waist straps. Support and stability are important when the backpack is loaded. Hip and waist straps distribute the load and add an extra level of support.

Two girls wearing back packsChoose a backpack that's built to last?

Don't forget to check the quality. If you want to purchase a backpack that will last more than a year, you will need to find one made of sturdy, lightweight fabric that is tough enough to withstand the rigors of your child's school day.

  • Check the zipper strength. Zippers can be one of the weakest parts of an overfilled backpack. A quality backpack will have zippers that can handle the stress of heavy loads for a few years.
  • Make sure all buckles and fasteners work smoothly.
  • Turn the backpack inside out and look at the quality of the seams. Reinforced and finished seams wear the best. There's nothing worse than having a seam unravel midway through the school year. 
  • You also may want to consider a backpack with reflective material on the outside. If your child is involved in after-school sports, a reflective strip will be more visible as your child walks through a darkened school parking lot after a competition or practice.

Boy wearing a backpack, wide straps and load limitsPack and wear the backpack to avoid injury.

A well-fitting quality backpack can still cause injury if it is not packed or worn correctly. Whether a backpack carries school books, baby supplies or groceries, it's important to abide by the weight recommendations suggested by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. They suggest people carry only 10 to 15 percent of their body weight in a backpack. These weight limits are especially important for young children since their bones are still growing.

  • An 80-pound child should carry a maximum of 12 pounds in his or her backpack.
  • A 200-pound, high school linebacker should carry less than 30.

To further reduce the risk of back strain, pack the heaviest items closest to the back and in the bottom of the backpack. 

Backpacks should be worn on the back using both shoulder straps. Slinging a heavy backpack over one shoulder may cause your child to lean to the side. In addition to being off balance,
your child is at risk of straining back, neck, and shoulder muscles.

Is the backpack too heavy for your child?

As your child comes home from school or heads out to the bus, observe your child's behavior. Does your child:

  • Struggle to put on or take off the backpack?
  • Bend forward to counteract the weight?
  • Complain of back, neck, or shoulder pain?
  • Talk about numbness or tingling in the arms or legs?
  • Have red marks on your child's shoulders or back?

Boy with a backpackBackpacks that are too heavy can cause back strain. If your child experiences back pain, you may want to lighten the load your student is carrying, If your child's back doesn't feel better within two weeks, you should contact an orthopaedic specialist at the Bone & Joint Center.

 

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