Did you know that National School Backpack Awareness Day is coming up September 18, 2019? You might be asking yourself, why do we even have a day dedicated to this seemingly simplistic topic? It’s a day that has been established by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) specifically to bring awareness to backpack safety, and every September it’s marked by school districts doing backpack weigh-ins, and check-ups. Perhaps the day stemmed from the fact that annually there are more than 6,500 children between the ages of 5 and 18 who end up in the emergency room each year due to injuries related to heavy backpacks or book bags according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
A study published in 2016 in the Spine Journal found that more than 60% of the 5,300 students surveyed suffered from backpack-related pain. Research from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that students often hunch over when carrying a backpack that’s too heavy for them, and their spines then experience 11.6 times the stress of every pound of material inside that backpack. Given that children’s spines are still growing, that bad posture plus the spinal stress could make them susceptible to long term back issues.
Just how heavy is your child’s backpack? Research has found that the typical child’s backpack, filled with school supplies and textbooks can often weigh more than 30% of the weight of the child carrying it. No wonder there’s been speculation that it can cause not only poor posture, but also disc compression and spine curvature. So how heavy should it be then? The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) says that a backpack should weigh no more than 10% of a child’s weight. In real-world terms, that means a 7-year-old child who weighs 50 pounds should be carrying a backpack that weighs no more than 5 pounds, while a teen who is 150 pounds can safely carry about 23 pounds in their backpack. Children who carried more than 20% of their weight reported serious back and neck pain. But weight isn’t the only thing you should pay attention to, the fit of your child’s backpack and the way it’s made is just as important, because straps that dig into shoulder muscles cause strain on the upper cervical neck and can damage the nerves that run down the child’s arms to their hands.
As your children go back to school, be sure you help choose a backpack that fits them properly, that they wear it correctly, and double check their posture as they are walking with it on. Here are some tips on choosing the right backpack and training your child in proper backpack use.
- First of all, backpacks are not a one size fits all kind of an item. While your child may want the backpack that has the cool cartoon character on it, it’s more important for you to find the one that fits them well to avoid injury. The backpack should be no wider than your child’s torso. It should not hang lower than 4 inches below the waist, in fact it should be waist level or slightly above the waist and should extend from about 2 inches below the shoulder.
- Be sure it has padding in all the right places. The backpack should have padding on the straps, where they meet your child’s shoulders and on the pack where it meets your child’s back. Padded shoulder straps keep it from digging into their shoulders and the padded back keeps them from being poked by the contents of the pack.
- The right straps are important. Be sure the pack has adjustable shoulder straps to help distribute the weight on your child’s back without digging into their shoulders. For younger children especially, pick a pack that also has chest, waist and compression straps to help ensure proper weight distribution as well. And use the adjustments once the pack is on your child’s back because a backpack that fits snugly causes less pressure on the spine and helps provide better posture. Be sure your child always wears the pack with both straps on, not hanging from one shoulder, which can cause spinal misalignment and pain. For older kids, hip straps are important because they tend to carry heavier items and these straps allow their hips to carry some of the weight instead of placing that strain all on their backs.
- Compartments are a little controversial in that, on the one hand having multiple compartments can help distribute the weight of items better, but they also encourage kids to carry more stuff in their pack. So if you get one with multiple compartments, be sure to help your child learn how to pack it properly so it’s not too heavy or lopsided.
- A side note: You may be thinking that it would just be easier to get your child a rolling backpack on wheels. But according to the American Chiropractic Association, this type of backpack should only be used by those students who cannot physically carry a backpack. School corridors are crowded, and rolling backpacks can be a tripping hazard for both your child and others in the hall.
Packing and Wearing It Wisely
Buying the right backpack is important, but how your child uses it is just as critical. So here are a few tips on proper wear and use.
- Put the heaviest items in first and put them in the back of the backpack, packing all the other items around them. Weigh the whole thing at the end when it’s packed and take out nonessential items to be sure it’s 10% or less of your child’s weight. Help your children evaluate their gear and work with them to lighten the daily load.
- Put loose small items like pens and paper clips into side compartments so as not to be poked by them when rummaging in the pack.
- Carry an empty water bottle. While hydration is important, water bottles can be quite heavy when full, so have your child fill their bottle at school instead.
- As noted above, be sure your child uses all of the straps on the backpack and that they are fitted properly. Check your child’s posture once it’s on.
- The NIH study found that how long a pack is carried each day also has a bearing on a child’s pain, so be sure to tell them to only wear the backpack when necessary. This means taking it off and putting it down on the ground at the bus stop and on the bus, as well as putting books away in their locker or cubbyhole at school, rather than carrying everything around.
Damage done to a child’s developing spine can be permanent, and cause pain and disability long into adulthood. We offer a free spinal check to find out if your child’s spine is in proper alignment. So, remember to bring your child into Upper Cervical Care Glen Carbon IL to have your child’s spine checked for proper alignment, especially if they complain of headaches, back, neck, or shoulder pain. Some simple, gentle adjustments can make the difference in their pain, and can keep your child’s entire nervous system functioning in a healthy way. Call today for your free consultation with Drs. Thad and Nikki Vuagniaux at 618-692-6992.