Does your child carry a backpack to School? I am not a betting person, but I am willing to bet that you answered “Yes”! Backpacks are a practical way to carry schoolbooks and supplies. When used correctly, they are a good tool; they are designed to distribute the weight of the load among some of the body’s strongest muscles. However, backpacks that are too heavy or are carried incorrectly can injure muscles and joints, leading to severe back, neck, and shoulder pain, as well as posture problems. According to Dr. Scott Bautch, a member of the American Chiropractic Association’s Council on Occupational Health, a recent study conducted in Italy found that the average child carries a backpack that would be the equivalent of a 39-pound burden for a 176-pound man, or a 29-pound load for a 132-pound woman. Of those children carrying heavy backpacks to school, 60 percent had experienced back pain as a result.
Overloaded backpacks used by children have received a lot of attention from parents, doctors, school administrators and the media in the past several years. The problem has become so widespread, in fact, that the California State Assembly passed legislation that would force school districts to develop ways of reducing the weight of students’ backpacks. Similar legislation is being considered in New Jersey as well. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission there were more than 21,000 backpack-related injuries treated at hospital emergency rooms, doctor’s offices, and clinics in the year 2003.
So what can you do to help protect your child’s back this school year?
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends that a child’s backpack should weigh NO MORE than 10-15% of a child’s weight (this figure varies depending on the child’s body strength and fitness). So for a 60 pound child their backpack should way no more than 6-9 lbs. You can tell if your child’s backpack is too heavy if he or she changes their posture by leaning forward to support the weight on his or her back rather than on the shoulders, by the straps; if they struggle when putting on or taking off the backpack; if they have pain when wearing the backpack; they experience tingling or numbness; and/or if they have red marks from the backpack.
In addition to the weight limit of the backpack, the ACA offers the following tips to help prevent the needless pain that backpack misuse could cause the students in your household.
- The backpack should never hang more than four inches below the waistline. A backpack that hangs too low increases the weight on the shoulders, causing your child to lean forward when walking.
- A backpack with individualized compartments helps in positioning 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.
- Bigger is not necessarily better. The more room there is in a backpack, the more your child will carry-and the heavier the backpack will be.
- Urge your child to wear both shoulder straps. Lugging the backpack around by one strap can cause the disproportionate shift of weight to one side, leading to neck and muscle spasms, as well as low-back pain.
- Wide, padded straps are very important. Non-padded straps are uncomfortable, and can dig into your child’s shoulders.
- The shoulder straps should be adjustable so the backpack can be fitted to your child’s body. Straps that are too loose can cause the backpack to dangle uncomfortably and cause spinal misalignment and pain.
- If the backpack is still too heavy, talk to your child’s teacher. Ask if your child could leave the heaviest books at school, and bring home only lighter hand-out materials or workbooks.
- Although the use of rollerpacks – or backpacks on wheels – has become popular in recent years, the ACA is now recommending that they be used cautiously and on a limited basis by only those students who are not physically able to carry a backpack. Some school districts have begun banning the use of rollerpacks because they clutter hallways, resulting in dangerous trips and falls.
If a child complains of back pain, parents should consider that it might be due to the backpack or perhaps something more serious. Further investigation is warranted if a child complains of back pain, numbness in the hands, has back pain that persistently limits their activities, requires medications or alters sleep patterns.
Chiropractic Care Can Help…
If you or your child experiences any pain or discomfort resulting from backpack use, call Langford Chiropractic Clinic. The Doctors of Langford Chiropractic are licensed and trained to diagnose and treat patients of all ages. In addition, doctors of Langford Chiropractic can also prescribe exercises designed to help children develop strong muscles, along with instruction in good nutrition, posture and sleeping habits.