Picking out the latest and greatest backpack is an end of summer tradition for many young students, but this essential back-to-school item has the potential to cause a lifetime of back and neck ailments.
“If too heavy or worn incorrectly, backpacks can strain muscles and joints, and cause serious back pain,” cautioned Paula Kramer, PhD, a licensed occupational therapist and chair of the Occupational Therapy Department at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that there were 7,300 reported backpack-related injuries treated in emergency rooms in 2006. Among the injuries, sprains and strains were the most common complaints.
“Heavy backpacks breed poor posture in children because they bend forward to compensate for the heavy load and this puts a strain on their backs and pressure on their disks,” said Dr. Kramer. “It is important for parents and school officials to understand that even if a backpack is light, if the weight is not distributed correctly, there can be long-term problems.
Dr. Kramer recommends the following tips to correctly choose and use a backpack:
· Select a backpack that is appropriate to the student’s size and age. Smaller backs will need smaller packs.
· Select a backpack with padded shoulder straps and always wear both straps in order to evenly distribute the load.
· Select a backpack with reflective material to help students to be more visible to buses and cars.
· A backpack should weigh no more than 15 percent of the student’s body weight.
· Load the heaviest items closest to the student’s back to help distribute weight evenly.
· Adjust shoulder straps so that the backpack fits snugly to the back
· Consider purchasing sling-style bags, which better balance weight due to their triangular shape, or bags on wheels, as they eliminate the need to carry a bag.
“If children keep wearing backpacks that are too heavy and packed improperly, they may be causing themselves a lifetime of aches and pains. If we can stress this to parents, then maybe we will see the number of children having achy backs decrease.”