With the start of the 2015-2016 school year, articles all over the web have popped up discussing the impact carrying a heavy backpack has on back health. Although many of us are through our backpack-wearing days, we probably have or know children who are carrying heavy loads to school each day. Teaching children to adopt good posture habits and focusing on back health could have the potential to eliminate back injuries later on in life.
A post that appeared on the NY Times blog in 2012 states that some of the risks of wearing a heavy backpack include “stress fractures in the back, inflammation of growth cartilage, back and neck strain, and nerve damage in the neck and shoulders”.
Cited in the same article, a study by the Federal Consumer Product Safety Commission found that “carrying a 12-pound backpack to and from school and lifting it 10 times a day for an entire school year puts a cumulative load on youngsters’ bodies of 21,600 pounds—the equivalent of six mid-sized cars.”
What can we do to lighten the load? The American Chiropractic Association lists several ways to help your child lessen the risk of back pain from their back pack.
- Make sure your child’s backpack weighs no more than 5 to 10 percent of his or her body weight. A heavier backpack will cause your child to bend forward in an attempt to support the weight on his or her back, rather than on the shoulders, by the straps.
- 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.
- 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.