More than 40 million students carry school backpacks. Studies have found over half of children who use backpacks, regularly carry more than the recommended safe weight. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates more than 3,300 children, aged 5-14 years, were treated in emergency rooms for injuries related to backpacks in 1998. Although many factors can lead to back pain
— increased participation in sports or exercise, poor posture while sitting, and long periods of inactivity
— some kids have backaches because they're lugging around their entire locker's worth of books, school supplies, and assorted personal items all day long.
Most doctors and physical therapists recommend kids carry no more than 10% to 15% of their body weight in their packs. When a backpack filled with books, is incorrectly placed on the shoulders, the weight can pull a child backward. To compensate, a child may bend forward at the hips or arch the back, which can cause the spine to compress unnaturally. The heavy weight can cause children to develop shoulder, neck, and back pain. Kids who wear their backpacks over just one shoulder, as many do, because they think it looks better, may end up leaning to one side to offset the extra weight. This can cause lower and upper back pain and strain their shoulders and neck. Also, backpacks with tight narrow straps dig into the shoulders and can interfere with circulation and nerve conduction. Causing possible symptoms of; tingling, numbness, and weakness in the arms and hands.
Bulky or heavy backpacks don't just cause back injuries. Other safety issues to consider:
- Kids who carry large packs often aren't aware of how much space the packs take up and can hit others with their packs when turning around or moving through tight spaces, such as the aisles of the school bus.
- Students are often injured when they trip over large packs or the packs fall on them.
- Carrying a heavy pack changes the way a person walks and increases the risk of falling, particularly on stairs or other places where the backpack puts the student off balance.
Purchasing a Safe Pack
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends parents look for the following when choosing the right backpack:·
1. A lightweight pack that doesn't add a lot of weight to your child's load (for example, even though leather packs look cool, they weigh more than traditional canvas backpacks)
2. Two wide, padded shoulder straps. Padded shoulder straps help prevent the straps from digging into your child's shoulders, back, and neck. Using a backpack with one strap, not two, puts all the pressure on one shoulder. It pulls the shoulder down and can cause back, neck, and shoulder pain. Look for a backpack with two straps instead, to distribute the weight of the backpack across the shoulders.
3. A padded back, provides increased comfort, and protects kids from being poked by sharp edges on objects (pencils, rulers, notebooks, etc.) inside the pack
4. Waist belt, helps to distribute the weight more evenly across the body
5. Multiple compartments, to distribute the weight more evenly. Packs on wheels (which look like small, overhead luggage bags) may be good options for students who have to lug around really heavy loads, they're extremely difficult to pull up stairs and to roll through snow. Check with the school before buying a rolling pack; many schools don't allow them because they can pose a tripping hazard in the hallways.
Here's a breakdown by body weight for measuring how much your child should be lugging around in his backpack:
Child's Weight Backpack Weight
50 pounds 5 pounds
75 pounds 7.5 pounds
100 pounds 10 pounds
125 pounds 12.5 pounds
150 pounds 15 pounds
Loading a backpack-Never allow a child to carry more than 15% of his or her body weight. For example, a child who weighs 100 lbs should not carry a backpack weighing more than 15 pounds.
-Load heaviest items closest to the child's back.
-Pack all items neatly to keep books and materials from sliding around in the pack
-If a backpack is too heavy, consider using one on wheels.
Using Backpacks Wisely To help kids prevent injury when using a backpack:
- Lighten the load. No matter how well-designed the backpack, doctors and physical therapists recommend that kids carry packs of no more than 10% to 15% of their body weight — but less is always better. If you don't know what that 10% to 15% feels like, use the bathroom scale (for example, the backpack of a child who weighs 80 pounds shouldn't weigh more than 8 to 12 pounds).
- Use and pick up the backpack properly. Make sure kids use both shoulder straps. Bags that are slung over the shoulder or across the chest or that only have one strap aren't as effective at distributing the weight as bags with two wide shoulder straps, therefore may strain muscles. Also tighten the straps enough for the backpack to fit closely to the body and sit 2 inches above the waist.
You may need to adjust kids' backpacks and/or reduce how much they carry if they:
- struggle to get the backpack on or off
- back pain
- lean forward to carry the backpack