Lighten your load this school year
The new school year is almost here, which means you’ve probably started your back-to-school shopping. In addition to the important decision of what clothes to buy your kids, you should also make sure you take time to buy a quality backpack that won’t cause your child an injury.
The American Physical Therapy Association says as many as 55% of students carry a backpack too heavy for them, and one-third require a visit to the doctor, missed school, or limited physical activities because of back pain.
Tips for Choosing your Back-to-School Backpack
1. If the school allows it, use a bag on wheels. By rolling a backpack rather than carrying it, you eliminate the risk of injury by carrying a backpack incorrectly or a bag that is too heavy.
2. Make sure it fits. A backpack shouldn’t hang more than four inches below the waist, or be wider than your child’s body. The shoulder straps should sit one to two inches below the top of his/her shoulders.
3. Buy a bag with straps. A waist belt and/or chest strap may help distribute the weight of the backpack.
4. Look for padding. A bag with a padded back and shoulder straps will reduce pressure on the back, shoulders, and underarm. It will also feel more comfortable if your child walks a long distance.
5. Shop for hidden compartments. If the bag has a few compartments or sections, it will distribute the weight in the backpack and provide easy access to everything in the bag.
6. Add reflective material or tape. If the bag doesn’t come with reflective material, add some reflective tape so that the bag, and your child, can be seen at night.
7. Try it on for size. When you are in the store, put books in the bag and try it on for size. Your child should be able to stand upright without a change in their normal posture, and without leaning forward or arching their back.
Using Your Backpack Correctly and Safely
It’s not only important that you buy the right backpack for your kids, but it’s equally important that they wear it correctly and use it properly to prevent injury.
1. Don’t overpack the bag. A backpack should weigh no more than 10 to 15% of your child’s body weight. If your child weighs 80 pounds, the bag should be eight to 12 pounds. Carrying a heavy backpack can lead to an acute or chronic injury as they struggle to carry bag.
2. Use both shoulder straps. Never use only one shoulder strap. This places all of the weight onto one side of the body and causes the body to rotate. By not using the straps properly, your child is at risk for lower and upper back pain and strain to his/her shoulders and neck. Also, make sure there are no twists in the shoulder straps when wearing them, a flat strap distributes the weight evenly.
3. Use chest and waist straps. By wearing these straps and tightening them, the weight of the pack is pulled in close to the body, so you can avoid the bag shifting.
4. Lighten the load. Don’t carry unnecessary items. Your child doesn’t need to take every book home, every night-make sure they only carrying the items they need that day.
Signs of an Overweight Backpack
You may choose to ignore the helpful tips for buying and wearing a backpack, but it’s important you don’t forget how to recognize the signs of injury from an overweight backpack. These include:
∫ A change in your child’s posture when wearing the backpack.
∫ Difficulty putting on or taking off the backpack.
∫ Pain when the backpack is on your child’s back properly.
∫ Tingling or numbness in arms and legs (mostly arms) after wearing the backpack for an extended period of time.
∫ Red marks on the shoulders.
If you see any of these symptoms, it’s time to talk with your doctor. You doctor may recommend you talk to a rehabilitation specialist to assess your child for issues with posture and recommend a treatment plan.
Devin Crebs is a physical therapist at UPMC Susquehanna Muncy, one of the 11 UPMC Susquehanna outpatient rehab locations in the UPMC Susquehanna network providing a variety of comprehensive general and specialized therapies to help you regain function and independence following injury or illness. For more information, call 570-546-4291.