If you've gone online, read a newspaper, or looked through your mail lately, you've probably seen that back-to-school sales and promotions are ramping up. New notepads, pencils, calculators, lunchboxes, laptops, and books…they all usually get crammed into one place: a backpack. These days, kids are carrying bulging backpacks to and from school and in between classes, not to mention lifting, loading and unloading them throughout the day. It might sound like a small part of everyday school life, but the strain on young necks, backs and shoulders can create a large variety of pains and problems.
Backpacks and Back Pain
Tote bags, shoulder bags, messenger bags, purses, rolling bags and backpacks…there are definitely plenty of options and each should be addressed with careful consideration. Though backpacks are the most practical choice, they too can strain muscles and joints and cause back pain if they’re too heavy or worn incorrectly. Here are some things to keep in mind:
• Weigh It Out – Most doctors and physical therapists recommend that kids carry no more than 10% to 15% of their body weight in their backpack or any other type of “satchel.”
• Backward and Forward – A tell-tale sign of a too-heavy backpack: it pulls the child backward, causing them to lean forward at the hips or arch the back, resulting in an unnatural compression of the spine and reducing balance, making it easier to fall and get hurt.
• Two is Better Than One – Whether they think it looks cooler or is just easier, kids who wear their backpacks over just one shoulder may end up leaning to one side to shift the extra weight. Improper backpack use can lead to poor posture or injury to one side of the body due to imbalance.
• On the Tight and Narrow – The tight, narrow straps of some backpacks can dig into shoulders, blocking circulation and causing nerve damage, which may result in tingling, numbness, or weakness in the arms and hands.
• Straight and Tall – Carrying a heavy load may encourage students to hunch or slouch while walking, distorting the natural curves in the middle and lower back, irritating spine joints, encouraging poor posture and straining neck muscles.
Picking the Right Pack
When back-to-school shopping this year, your kids may be more concerned with style and fashion, but if there’s anything you should be paying attention to, it’s the type of backpack your child will be toting around for the coming year. Here are some things to consider and what to look for when buying a new backpack:
• Lightweight – An empty backpack should be light and not add more weight to your child's load. Avoid thick materials like leather and heavy, unnecessary adornments like buckles, chains, and metal.
• Soft and Wide – Be sure the straps are wide and padded to provide comfortable cushioning on the shoulders.
• Padded Back – Not only will a padded back provide more comfort, it will also protect the back from sharp objects stuffed inside like book corners and stray pencils.
• Belted – Harness-like belts across the chest and at the hips will help distribute weight evenly across the body and may encourage better posture.
• Compartments – Multiple places and spaces allow for better organization and more even distribution of weight.
• Wheels – Backpacks on wheels and rolling laptop bags are more common in schools and are sometimes good options for students, but they can also become very heavy, making it difficult to navigate stairs and also posing a tripping hazard in hallways.
While these considerations might make back-to-school shopping a bit more difficult, knowing what to look for will hopefully make for a safer, more comfortable school year for your kids. It may seem that kids are too young to experience back pain but since carrying a backpack is part of their normal routine, pay close attention if your child complains of back pain or numbness or weakness in the arms or legs so you can be sure to address these concerns with a doctor.
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