5 Tips For Backpack Safety this Fall
While it’s certainly not feeling any cooler here in the lowcountry, it’s August which means it’s back to school. Despite the current heat, fall is just around the corner, along with all the season entails.
Whether kids’ return to school means respite for you as a parent, a return to 5 am wake up calls as a teacher, or just pumpkin flavored everything, for kids one thing is certain: the return of the backpack. While heavy backpacks are certainly not a new phenomena by any means ( & hopefully a disappearing one with our ever more digital culture), our awareness of the detrimental effects they can have is currently and abundantly clear. Recently, I saw a little girl who couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5 lugging a backpack that went down to her knees. While my hope is that it was empty and she carried it to resemble a “big kid,” the chiropractor in me cringes at what that weight causes to her spine and what effects that bag may eventually carry. If you learn only one thing from this post let it be this:
Basic backpack safety: A child’s backpack should be no heavier than 10% of their body weight. This means if they’re 100lbs., they can carry 10 lbs.; if they’re 50 lbs., they should only carry 5 lbs. The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) has laid out some additional tools for you to help ensure your child’s backpack is safe for them.
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 positioned 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.
The ACA recommends that parents or guardians help children pack their backpacks properly, and encourage their children to report any pain or other problems resulting from carrying a backpack.
The risks of carrying backpacks that are too heavy are serious. Children may be damaging their backs and permanently altering their posture. According to research (Leffert RD – Orthop Clin North Am – 01-Apr-2000; 31(2): 331-45), there are some concerns for children who carry heavy backpacks to and from school. Here are some things to consider:
Chronic, low level trauma is the chief culprit in this injury process. Your child will not just collapse under the excessive weight of a backpack. Instead, they can suffer mild, low level trauma which has a cumulative effect on their spinal health.
While 10% of their body weight may not seem like much to an adult, remember that your child’s spine & postural muscles are still in the development phase. To be sure, weigh their loaded backpack and then weigh them. When they carry too much weight, this causes the head and neck to shift forward, putting undue stress on their shoulders and lower neck.
Be certain their backpacks have two straps, and that they use both of them. When the backpack is worn on one shoulder there is an adaptive posture assumed. The spine takes on a convexity (curve) to balance the weight.
Finally, if your child complains of shoulder, neck pain, or tingling/numb arms, please let us know. These are all symptoms that can result from heavy backpacks, and are issues that we treat daily here at Absolute Wellness Center. We are happy to perform backpack checks and would love to help take a proactive stance in your family’s health. Call us today; we are never too busy to take care of you and your loved ones!