Backpacks and Growing Spines
“As the sapling is bent, so grows the tree”
From Kindergarten through college, the backpack is a fixture in most children’s lives. Children often choose a backpack based on décor or theme when they are young. Older students also want the backpack to look good. It is important though to evaluate the ergonomic function of a backpack. Good preparation for school besides a good night’s sleep and a healthy breakfast may also be the correct backpack. The average daily load in a sixth grader’s pack is 20.5-27.5 lbs! By the time a student graduates from high school, he/she has carried the equivalent of six full-size cars or 11 tons!!! When worn correctly and not overloaded, a backpack is supported by some of the strongest muscles in our body. Unfortunately, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are approximately 6,500 ER visits per year because of backpack injuries. Here are four helpful hints to help select the proper backpack and help your child avoid strain or injury.
1. Choose right. The best design options allow for even weight distribution and less strain on the spine. Wide, padded shoulder straps are the best. Narrow straps can “dig” into shoulders causing pain and reduced circulation. Use two shoulder straps at all times. One strap or messenger bags that are slung over one side of the body cannot distribute weight evenly and cause children to compensate with bad postural positions. If vanity rules and your child insists on this design, encourage them to at least alternate sides of their body to carry the bag on an every other day basis. A padded back to the backpack will protect against sharp edges of items carried in the pack from irritating a child’s back (think pencils, pens, rulers). A waist belt option is nice to have for days of extra load. This belt aids the shoulder straps for weight distribution. Lightweight and durable canvas material construction is better than leather as it does not add any significant weight to the pack. What about rolling backpacks? Some schools do not permit them. They tend to weigh more, still need carried up and down stairs and do not roll well in the snow. The size of the pack should fit the size of the child- no more than ¾ of the length of the child’s back.
2. Pack it right. Use today’s multi-compartmental packs to distribute items evenly in the pack. Place heavier items in the section closest to the spine. Make sure your kids are not packing unnecessary personal items that add extra weight. Doctors and physical therapists recommend that children’s backpacks be no more than 10-15% of the child’s bodyweight. Some schools have online access to textbooks to minimize carrying heavy books home. Monitor if your child tends to bring home an excessively packed backpack on the weekends. Are they procrastinating homework until the weekend? Better homework planning during the week may help alleviate a heavy pack. Encourage your child to stop often at their locker during the day if possible to lessen the load. If a load is making a child lean forward, they should remove and hand carry heavy books in front to balance the spine. Just because they have a pack, does not mean they should absolutely have to carry everything in it!!!!
3. Lift it right. Children need to be taught to stay close and face a heavy backpack. They should bend their knees while lifting the pack, and put the pack on one shoulder than the other.
4. Wear it right. Use 2 shoulder straps and a waist belt if the load is heavy. The pack should rest about 2 inches above waist. If your child must lean forward to carry the pack, it is overloaded and needs adjusted. A child should not have to struggle to take the pack on or off. Listen to your child if they complain of back, shoulder or neck pain.
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