The school year is beginning again, and kids everywhere will be lugging their backpacks full of books, homework, and other necessary (and sometimes not so necessary) items to and from school. According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, many children are in danger of physical injury by carrying a backpack that is poorly designed, too large for the child, loaded too heavily, or worn incorrectly.
Backpacks are considered to be the most efficient way to carry school supplies, since they are supported by the back and abdominal muscles and tend to distribute the weight more evenly than duffel bags or brief cases, but studies show that over 50% of school children are carrying loads that are too heavy for them.
Warning signs to be aware of are the child complaining of pain in the shoulders, neck, arms, or back, or numbness and tingling in the fingers. Excessive pressure from carrying an overloaded or poorly constructed backpack can cause compression of the nerves and blood vessels in the neck and shoulders, creating pain in these areas as well as in the back and arms.
Purchase a backpack that is well designed and proportionate to the size of your child. The straps should be adjustable and padded to reduce pressure on the neck and shoulders. A pack with a waist belt or multiple compartments will help to distribute weight more evenly.
Properly adjusted, the straps should hold the backpack snugly against the back and the pack should hang no lower than four inches below the child’s waist. A pack that hangs too loosely can strain the muscles between the shoulders and could cause the child to lose his balance and topple over. The backpack should be worn over both shoulders, not slung over one shoulder which can cause the spine to curve and compress nerves in the shoulder, which can result in a loss of arm function in extreme cases.
Pack only what is absolutely necessary for each day’s schoolwork, and remove materials at the end of each day that don’t need to be returned to school. Left to his own devices, a child’s backpack can become like the overstuffed school locker, full of graded papers, too many pens and pencils, art projects, old lunch bags and other clutter that will add extra weight. Heavy books and items should carried closest to the back, and organized neatly so the load doesn’t shift around.
The weight of the loaded pack should be no more than 15% of the child’s weight. No child of any age should regularly carry a backpack that weighs more than 25 pounds. If the child leans forward at the hips or arches his back to compensate for the weight of the pack, it is too heavy and can lead to compression of the spine with resulting back pain.
Show your child how to put the backpack on correctly by bending at the knees and picking it up with both hands before swinging it on to reduce stress on the back muscles. A backpack with wheels is a good option if the handle extends long enough for the child to pull it without bending over. Reduce the chance of pain and injury by teaching your child how to properly load and carry his backpack during the school year.