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Backpack Tips

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Hard to believe but school is only a few weeks away.  Many school children will be off to the store with a loved one to buy a backpack.  Backpacks are great for carrying everything from books and pencils to lunches and sports gear. As a result, many backpacks are too heavy for the student.  In addition, many students do not wear their backpacks properly.  This combo pack can potentially result in back pain and injury. 
In a 2011 study of over 1,400 students, 61.4% had backpacks exceeding 10% of their body weight. Those carrying the heaviest backpacks had a 50% higher risk of back pain.   This and other studies show that girls and younger children are at greater risk for backpack related injuries because they are smaller and carry loads that are heavier in proportion to their body weight. 
Is your child leaning forward while walking, or do they start to fall backward from the weight when they stand up?  These are two indicators that the backpack is too heavy and it is time to find out exactly how much is being carried.  The recommendation from medical specialists is that a backpack should not exceed 10 – 15% of the child’s weight.  So for example, if your child weighs 100 pounds, the backpack should not exceed 10-15 pounds.  At this time there is no evidence that carrying a heavy backpack causes any permanent distortion or deformity of the spine. However, some physicians are concerned that it could cause chronic back and neck problems later in life.  
Here are some tips for buying and using a backpack:
  • Backpacks should be of lightweight material with wide padded shoulder straps and a padded back.
  • Consider purchasing a backpack with wheels. (nice option for smaller children)
  • The backpack should not be wider than the child’s torso.
  • The child should wear both straps and avoid slinging one strap over a shoulder.
  • When positioned correctly, the pack should hang just below the shoulders and rest on the hips.
  • A padded hip strap or waist belt will help distribute the weight.
  • Look for a backpack with multiple compartments to help distribute the load.
  • Heavier items should be packed closest to the center of back.
  • Peek inside your child’s backpack and suggest items that could be left at home or at school.
  • Weigh your child’s backpack once loaded with school gear.  
Whether your child walks to school or waits for the bus, one last piece of safety.  Add a piece of reflective tape to the backpack.  This will increase your child’s visibility to drivers on those dark mornings that are right around the corner.  Until next week, be well.  
Lorraine Wichtowski is a Community Health Educator at Noyes Health in Dansville.  If you have questions or suggestions for future articles she can be reached at or 585-335-4327.  

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