By Jennafer Young, MS, OTR/L
As the kids are heading back to school, it’s amazing how quickly their backpacks fill up with supplies...lunch, textbooks, homework, craft supplies, gifts from friends, an extra sweatshirt, prizes from teachers, crumpled papers and forgotten bits of something-or-other that mysteriously collect in the great chasm known as the “bottomless backpack.”
What begins as a light load quickly transforms into an overweight backpack that can cause back pain or injury for your child. The risk of injury is compounded by kids’ tendencies to sling the backpack over one shoulder or walk in a slouched position to compensate for the rear-heavy weight distribution.
Overweight backpacks have the ability to cause low back pain, shoulder pain, and even deformities in the natural curves of the back. With enough rest breaks and a reasonable load, these aches and pains can be avoided or healed. So as you and your child prepare the backpack, here are some safety tips to keep in mind:
Select the right sized backpack
Backpacks that are overly roomy lead to a poor fit on the child. Plus, if the space is available, they’ll probably fill it with unnecessary items & weight! As a tip, the backpack should not be wider or longer than the child’s torso.
Choose an ergonomic backpack
Wide, padded straps are a must-have for spreading the weight and preventing the straps from digging into the shoulders. Added chest or hip straps are helpful for older children with textbooks, in order to further distribute the weight.
Prioritize the weight
The American Chiropractic Association recommends that backpacks weigh no more than 5-10% of your child’s body weight.* Do you have a 60lb 3rd grade daughter? Her backpack should only weigh 3-6 pounds...that adds up quickly! Before you slip in that extra notebook and pair of play shoes, grab the scale and check it out!
Wear it right
Tighten the straps so the bag sits firmly against your child’s back, rather than sagging (note: the bag should not hang more than 4 inches below your child’s waist). Encourage your child to use BOTH straps of the backpack whenever carrying the bag. Even if the walk to the bus is a short jaunt, help him or her make a habit of donning both straps. If they’re not doing it when they leave home, they’re probably not doing it at school either.