Lighten Your Load! Top Tips For Backpack Safety
More than 40 million students in the United States carry school backpacks, and with the average student carrying more weight than is considered safe, it is no surprise that backpack injuries lead to over 7,000 emergency room visits per year. More concerning than emergency room visits, however, are the long-term health consequences of carrying a backpack improperly.
Back pain is the number one cause of disability in adults worldwide. This often begins with minor repetitive injuries throughout life, which can begin in childhood. In fact, in one study of American students, 6 out of 10 students ages 9-20 reported they were already experiencing chronic back pain related to heavy backpacks. If left untreated, this can develop into much more serious conditions in adulthood which are also much more difficult to correct. Caring for your child’s spine should be as important as caring for their teeth!
Backpack injuries are generally due to two causes- the size, shape, and materials of the backpack itself and the weight that is carried in that . It is recommended that a loaded backpack weigh no more than 15% (about one-sixth) of a student’s body weight (100 lb student = 15 lb backpack, 75 lb student = 10 lb). The average student carries a backpack weighing 25%, or one-fourth of the students body weight, and 3 out of 10 students typically carry backpacks weighing up to one-third of their body weight at least once a week! Below are the top questions that you should be asking about your child’s backpack, along with recommendations from the American Chiropractic Association.
- Is the backpack the correct size for your child? The backpack should never be wider or longer than your child’s torso, and the pack should not hang more than 4 inches below the waistline. A backpack that hangs too low increases the weight on the shoulders, causing your child to lean forward when walking.
- Does the backpack have two wide, padded shoulder straps? Non-padded straps are not only uncomfortable, but also they can place unnecessary pressure on the neck and shoulder muscles.
- Does your child use both straps? Lugging a heavy backpack by one strap can cause a disproportionate shift of weight to one side, leading to neck and muscle spasms, low-back pain, and poor posture.
- Are the shoulder straps adjustable? The shoulder straps should be adjustable so the backpack can be fitted to your child’s body. The backpack should be evenly centered in the middle of your child's back.
- Does the backpack have a padded back? A padded back not only provides increased comfort, but also protects your child from being poked by sharp edges on school supplies (pencils, rulers, notebooks, etc.) inside the pack.
- Does the pack have several compartments? A backpack with individualized compartments helps position 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, and try to place the heaviest items closet to the body.