By Dana McGill, PTA, Tulsa Bone & Joint Bartlesville
Backpacks are a popular and practical way for children and teenagers to carry schoolbooks and supplies. They are designed to distribute the weight of the load among some of the body’s strongest muscles. When used correctly, backpacks can be a good way to carry the necessities of the school day.
Tips for Parents
Parents can help ensure their child’s safety by doing the following:
• Encourage your child or teenager to tell you about any numbness, tingling, or discomfort in the arms or legs. These symptoms may indicate poor backpack fit or too much weight being carried.
• Watch your child put on and take off the backpack to see if it is a struggle. If the backpack seems too heavy, have your child remove some of the books and carry them in his or her arms to ease the load on the back.
• Do not ignore any back pain in a child or teenager.
• Encourage your child to stop at his or her locker when time permits throughout the day to drop off or exchange heavier books.
• If your child has back pain that does not improve, consider buying a second set of textbooks to keep at home.
Start With an Ergonomic Backpack
When selecting a backpack, look for:
• An appropriate size: A backpack should not be wider than your child’s torso or hang more than 4 inches below the waist
• Padded, adjustable shoulder straps to help distribute the weight on your child’s back without digging into their shoulders
• Padded back to protect against contents inside the backpack poking into your child’s back
• Waist and chest straps to help distribute the weight of the backpack more evenly across your child’s back
• Multiple compartments to help position the weight more effectively
• Compression straps to stabilize the contents
• Reflective material to allow your child to be seen when walking to and from school
Use the Backpack Correctly
Check the fit of the backpack:
• Make sure your child uses both straps when carrying the backpack; using one strap shifts the weight to one side and causes muscle pain and posture problems.
• Make certain the shoulder straps are tightened so the backpack is fitted to your child’s back; a dangling backpack can cause spinal misalignment and pain.
• Encourage your child to use the chest, waist and compression straps, and to adjust them to the load.
• Organize the items inside so that heavier items are low and towards the center of the backpack.
A roomy backpack may seem like a good idea, but the more space there is to fill, the more likely your child will fill it. Help your child determine what is absolutely necessary to carry. If it’s not essential, have them leave it at home, in their locker or in the classroom.
Teach your child to load the backpack with the heaviest items first closest to the bottom and the center of the back of the backpack and to make use of the multiple compartments to distribute the load.
What about Backpacks on Wheels?
According to the ACA, rolling backpacks should be used “cautiously and on a limited basis by only those students who are not physically able to carry a backpack.” The reason? They clutter school corridors, replacing a potential back injury hazard with a tripping hazard.
So, pick up that backpack from time to time, and let your children know you’ve got their back.