Avoiding backpack injuries this school year

Avoiding backpack injuries this school year (Image 1)

Each year, thousands of children suffer back injuries due to overloaded back packs or because they are wearing them incorrectly. Dr. Kevin Campbell talks about how to choose the right backpack for your child and how to properly carry it to avoid injury.

Common backpack injuries

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates there are more than 7,300 backpack-related injuries treated by hospitals and doctors each year. Injuries include bruises, sprains and strains to the back and shoulders. Some injuries even included fractures.

Compared with shoulder bags, messenger bags, or purses, backpacks are better because the strongest muscles in the body — the back and the abdominal muscles — support the weight of the packs.

When worn correctly, the weight in a backpack is evenly distributed across the body, and shoulder and neck injuries are less common than if someone carried a briefcase or purse.

As practical as backpacks are, they can strain muscles and joints and may cause back pain if they're too heavy or are used incorrectly.

Improper backpack use can also lead to poor posture. Girls and younger kids may be especially at risk for backpack-related injuries because they're smaller and may carry loads that are heavier in proportion to their body weight.

Also, backpacks with tight, narrow straps that dig into the shoulders can interfere with circulation and nerves. These types of straps can contribute to tingling, numbness, and weakness in the arms and hands.

The right backpack

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that a child's backpack should weigh no more than 10 to 20 percent of the child's body weight. This figure may vary depending on the child's body strength and fitness.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents look for the following when choosing the right backpack:

  • A lightweight pack that doesn't add a lot of weight to your child's load (for example, even though leather packs look cool, they weigh more than traditional canvas backpacks)
  • Two wide, padded shoulder straps; straps that are too narrow can dig into shoulders
  • A padded back, which not only provides increased comfort, but also protects kids from being poked by sharp edges on objects (pencils, rulers, notebooks, etc.) inside the pack
  • A waist belt, which helps to distribute the weight more evenly across the body
  • Multiple compartments, which can help distribute the weight more evenly
  • Although packs on wheels (which look like small, overhead luggage bags) may be good options for students who have to lug around really heavy loads, they're extremely difficult to pull up stairs and to roll through snow. Check with the school before buying a rolling pack; many schools don't allow them because they can pose a tripping hazard in the hallways.

What are the signs of backpack related injury?

A child may have a backpack-related injury if:

  • He/ She struggles to get the backpack on or off
  • He/ She has back pain
  • He/ She leans forward to carry the backpack
  • If your child has back pain, numbness or weakness in the arms or legs, talk to your doctor or physical therapist.

Avoiding injury

A lot of the responsibility for packing lightly and safely rests with kids.

  • Encourage kids to use their locker or desk frequently throughout the day instead of carrying the entire day's worth of books in the backpack.
  • Make sure kids don't tote unnecessary items like laptops, cell phones, and video games. They can add extra weight.
  • Encourage kids to bring home only the books needed for homework or studying each night.
  • Ask about homework planning. A heavier pack on Fridays might mean that a child is procrastinating on homework until the weekend, making for an unnecessarily heavy backpack.
  • Picking up the backpack the right way can also help kids avoid back injuries. As with any heavy weight, they should bend at the knees and grab the pack with both hands when lifting a backpack to the shoulders.
  • Use all of the backpack's compartments, putting heavier items, such as textbooks, closest to the center of the back.

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