With a bursting school curriculum and more gadgets than before, kids today could be experiencing the effects of a heavy backpack. The West Virginia Orthopedic Society (WVOS), the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) and the Pediatric Orthopedic Society of North America (POSNA) urge parents and kids to consider safety first to avoid backpack-related injuries.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) more than 24,300 individuals were treated in hospitals and doctors’ offices for injuries related to backpacks in 2012, and more than 9,500 of those injuries were kids 5-18 years old.
“Backpacks are designed to distribute the weight of load among some of the body’s strongest muscles,” said WVOS President David Ede, MD. “But, when worn incorrectly, injuries such as strains, sprains and posture problems can occur. While some of these injuries can be minor, others can have a lasting effect on kids, and follow them into adulthood.”
WVOS, AAOS and POSNA recommend the following tips to help eliminate discomfort and reduce the risk of backpack-related injuries.
• Kids should carry no more than 15-20 percent of their body weight.
• Use both shoulder straps to keep the weight of the backpack better distributed and adjust the shoulder straps to keep the load close to the back.
• Remove or organize items if too heavy and pack the heavier things low and towards the center.
• When lifting backpacks, bend at the knees.
• School backpacks are for schoolwork. Carry only those items that are required for the day; if possible, leave books at home or school.
• At home and at school, keep walkways clear of backpacks to avoid tripping.
Parents also can help with backpack-related pain:
• Encourage your child or teenager to tell you about numbness or tingling in the arms or legs which may indicate poor fit or too much weight being carried.
• If the backpack seems too heavy for the child, have them remove some of the books and carry them in their arms to ease load on the back.
• Purchase a backpack appropriate for the size of your child.
• Watch your child put on or take off the backpack to see if it is a struggle.
• Encourage your child to stop at their locker throughout the day as time permits to drop off heavier books.
Tips for Proper Use of Backpacks
Backpacks that are too heavy or are worn incorrectly can cause problems for children and teenagers. Improperly used backpacks may injure muscles and joints. This can lead to severe back, neck and shoulder pain, as well as posture problems.
Although they are linked to posture problems, heavy backpacks do not cause scoliosis. Scoliosis is a sideways curve of the spine that often shows up in children during adolescence.
The following guidelines can help your family use backpacks safely.
Choosing the Right Backpack
The correct use of both of the wide, well-padded shoulder straps will help distribute the weight of the backpack. When choosing a backpack, look for one that is appropriate for the size of your child. In addition, look for some of the following features:
• Wide, padded shoulder straps
• Two shoulder straps
• Padded back
• Waist strap
• Lightweight backpack
• Rolling backpack
To prevent injury when using a backpack, do the following:
• Always use both shoulder straps to keep the weight of the backpack better distributed across the child’s back
• Tighten the straps to keep the load closer to the back
• Pack light: Kids should carry no more than 15 to 20% of their body weight
• Organize the items: pack heavier things low and towards the center
• Remove items if the backpack is too heavy: carry only those items that are required for the day, and if possible, leave unnecessary books at home or school
• Lift properly by bending at the knees when picking up a backpack
• Build muscle strength
Tips for Parents
Parents also can help.
• Encourage your child or teenager to tell you about numbness, tingling, or discomfort in the arms or legs which may indicate poor backpack fit or too much weight being carried.
• Watch your child put on or take off the backpack to see if it is a struggle. If the backpack seems too heavy for the child, have them remove some of the books and carry them in their arms to ease load on the back.
• Do not ignore any back pain in a child or teenager.
• Talk to the school about lightening the load. Team up with other parents to encourage changes.
• Be sure the school allows students to stop at their lockers throughout the day to drop off or exchange heavier books.
• If your child has back pain that does not improve, consider buying a second set of textbooks to keep at home.