Back to School Backpack Safety
It’s that time of year again, BACK-TO-SCHOOL! As practical as backpacks are, though, they can strain muscles and joints and may cause back pain if they’re too heavy or are used incorrectly.
Problems Backpacks Can Pose
Although many factors can lead to back pain, such as sudden increased participation in sports or exercise, poor posture while sitting, and long periods of inactivity, some kids have backaches because they’re carrying around an entire locker’s worth of books and school supplies all day long. The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) recommends that kids carry no more than 5% to 10% of their body weight in their backpacks.
A heavy backpack filled with books can pull a child backward, even when place on the shoulders correctly. To compensate, a child may lean forward, flexing or arching the back, which causes the spine to compress unnaturally. This puts extra stress on the muscles and joints of the low back which try to accommodate the poor posture and heavy load. This can lead some kids to develop shoulder, neck, or back pain.
Kids who wear their backpacks over just one shoulder — as many do, because they think it looks better or just feels easier — may end up leaning to one side to offset the extra weight. They might develop lower and upper back pain or strain their shoulders and neck.
Improper backpack use can also contribute to poor posture. Girls and younger kids may be especially at risk for backpack-related injuries because they’re smaller and may carry loads that are heavier in proportion to their body weight.
Buying Tips for a Safe Backpack
The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) offers the following tips to help prevent the needless pain that backpack misuse could cause the students in your household.
- Make sure your child’s backpack weighs no more than 5 to 10 percent of his or her body weight. A heavier backpack will cause your child to bend forward in an attempt to support the weight on his or her back, rather than on the shoulders, by the straps.
- The backpack should never hang more than four inches below the waistline. A backpack that hangs too low increases the weight on the shoulders, causing your child to lean forward when walking.
- A backpack with individualized compartments helps in positioning the contents most effectively. Make sure that pointy or bulky objects are packed away from the area that will rest on your child’s back.
- Bigger is not necessarily better. The more room there is in a backpack, the more your child will carry-and the heavier the backpack will be.
- Urge your child to wear both shoulder straps. Lugging the backpack around by one strap can cause the disproportionate shift of weight to one side, leading to neck and muscle spasms, as well as low-back pain.
- Wide, padded straps are very important. Non-padded straps are uncomfortable, and can dig into your child’s shoulders.
- The shoulder straps should be adjustable so the backpack can be fitted to your child’s body. Straps that are too loose can cause the backpack to dangle uncomfortably and cause spinal misalignment and pain.
- If the backpack is still too heavy, talk to your child’s teacher. Ask if your child could leave the heaviest books at school, and bring home only lighter hand-out materials or workbooks.
Chiropractic can help! Regular adjustments for kids can prevent injury and strain on a child’s back.