How to Lessen Your Child’s Backpack Burden
Depending on where you live, your kids are probably preparing to return to school. In some states, they may already have started. Back to school means shopping for the essentials.
One of the most important items on that list is your child’s backpack. A good backpack can keep everything organized, making the transition between school and home much easier. A good pack also helps your child lug his/her heavy books with a minimum of structural stress.
Books are heavy all by themselves, and along with all the other classroom essentials, the weight can add up. A too-heavy pack can cause neck and shoulder problems, along with balance issues that can lead to falling.
The American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation reports that students who carried packs that weighed 25 percent of their body weight experienced balance difficulties in normal activities such as climbing stairs and opening doors. Students who carried 15 percent of their weight experienced only moderate balance issues, and students who carried 5 percent of their body weight had no balance problems. The general recommendation for students to carry up to 10 percent of their body weight.
There are other factors that make a difference as well: how you distribute items in your pack, the design of your pack and making sure your child takes advantage of all the ergonomic features of his/her pack.
Here are some great suggestions from the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association:
What to Look for When You Buy a Backpack
- Look for backpacks with wide, padded shoulder straps. Narrow straps dig painfully into shoulders and can hinder circulation, causing numbness or tingling in the arms, which over time may cause weakness in the hands. Padded shoulder straps help absorb the load.
- Look for backpacks with “S” shaped shoulder straps, which will ergonomically contour to your child’s body.
- Consider the weight of the backpack when empty. For example, a canvas backpack will be lighter weight than leather.
- Look for backpacks with a waist or chest strap. This will help keep the load close to the body and help maintain proper balance.
- Look for backpacks with a backpack with a built-in back support.
- Look for backpacks with a lumbar pillow.
- Make sure the backpack is not too heavy. Students of all ages seem to be carrying heavier loads. Even when worn properly with both straps, leaning forward to compensate for this extra weight can affect the natural curve in the lumbar, or lower back region. Extra weight may cause a rounding of the shoulders and an increased curve in the thoracic, or upper back region. As a result, the student may experience back, shoulder and neck pain. A good rule to follow is to carry no more than 10-15 percent of one’s body weight.
How to Use Your Backpack
- Wear both shoulder straps. Slinging a backpack over one shoulder causes a person to lean to one side to compensate for the uneven weight, curving the spine. Over time, this can cause lower and upper back pain, strained shoulders and neck, and even functional scoliosis, or curvature of the spine. Teenage girls are especially susceptible to scoliosis.
- Distribute weight evenly across your back. The more spread out a load is, the less strain it puts on any one part of your body. Load pack so the heaviest items are right next to your back.
- Snug shoulder straps so the pack fits close to the upper part of your back. The further a backpack’s load is from your back, the more it pulls you backward and strains muscles between your shoulders.
- Use the waist belt, and side/chest straps. Keep the load close to your body. Keeping the pack close to your hips also shifts work to your legs.
- The bottom should rest in the curve of your lower back and the top touch just below the big knob on your neck (vertebral prominence).
- Neatly pack your backpack, and try to keep items in place.
- Try to make frequent trips to your locker, between classes, to replace books.
There are lots of backpack choices online. If you Google “ergonomic student backpacks” you’ll find plenty of good information.