Student Wearing a Backpack

Going Back to School Without Breaking Your Back: Backpack Safety

The school year is kicking off all over the country.  It’s a busy and exciting time for parents, teachers and kids.  Lunches are being packed, school buses fill the streets, school supplies are sold in mass quantity and kids everywhere are starting a new chapter in their life.  One of the best parts of getting ready for the new school year is picking out a backpack.  Selecting the right back pack is more than getting one that just ‘looks cool’ or has your child’s favorite comic book character on it. Getting the right backpack and using it properly could possibly one of the most important decisions of back to school preparation!

It is common to see kids, teens and college students carrying backpacks that are too heavy or improperly fitted. This can lead to discomfort and if allowed to continue for a prolonged period of time, can cause damage to the spine.  This is why it is so important to use a quality backpack that is fitted properly and not overloaded.  A heavy backpack not only causes strain to the body while being worn, but can also create an opportunity for injury while picking up or taking it on and off.

How heavy is too heavy?

A backpack should not weigh more than 10% of the body weight of the person carrying it. If your child is 120 lbs, the backpack should not exceed 12-15 pounds.

When a pack is too heavy, multiple things can occur:

Injury: Injury can occur from lifting the pack and taking it on and off.
Numbness: The straps can dig into the shoulders, sometimes causing numbness in the arms and hands.
Curved Shoulders and Spine: The weight may cause the person to compensate by lean forward. Over time, this can lead to rounded shoulders and the back becoming curved, as well as back, shoulder and neck pain.
Pain: If you wear the pack on one shoulder or use a messenger bag, this can cause leaning to one side to offset the weight and lead to back pain and strain on the shoulders and neck.

Features to look for when selecting a pack:

Padding: Two padded straps, the wider the better.
Waist Belt: Waist belt. While many kids may think this is ‘uncool’, it really helps to distribute the weight of the pack evenly across the body.
Compartments: Multiple compartments help distribute the weight of the contents evenly throughout the pack.
Weight: It’s important to have a good supportive pack, but be aware of the added weight of the pack itself.

Proper Use:

Adjustment it: Before you fill it, try it on and adjust the straps so the pack fits close to the back and does not bump against the lower back or bottom. If it does bump against the lower back or bottom, the straps are too long.
Use the compartments: Don’t put everything in the main compartment. Side pockets will help distribute the weight more evenly.
Weigh it: Once the pack is loaded, weigh it to ensure it does not weigh more than 10% of the body weight of the person carrying it.
Use both straps: Use both shoulder straps, do not carry it over one shoulder.
Use your hands: If the pack is too heavy, take a couple of items out and carry them in your hands.

Additional Ideas:

Wheels: Consider a backpack with wheels, especially if you have a heavy load to carry.
Lockers: Make use of school lockers. Unload the backpack in the morning and make frequent trips to switch out books and supplies, carry only what you need for the next class or two.
Duplicate Books: Sometimes schools may have extra books, ask for two sets of school books, one for home and one for school, therefore eliminating the need to carry each school book to and from school every day.
Use your knees: Bend at the knees to pick up the backpack or any other heavy item. This will protect the back from unnecessary strain.

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