By Kathy Hubbard
Before we think it’s odd that today is National School Backpack Awareness Day, let’s think about how much sense it actually makes. School started a little over a week ago, so now your children have filled their new backpacks with all the paraphernalia necessary to get a good education. Right? Sure. But have they overfilled it?
Today you’re going to take a minute to check your kids’ backpacks because an improperly packed pack can cause chronic back, shoulder and neck pain. As a matter of fact, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission cited 5,415 backpack-related injuries that needed emergency room treatment in 2013 alone.
Bear in mind that there can be other factors that can lead to back-related pain such as increased participation in sports and exercise, slouching while sitting particularly when doing so for long periods of time. But, lugging around a whole locker’s worth of books plus supplies, plus those extra athletic shoes will most likely be the cause of long-term discomfort.
Everything you read about backpacks will tell you that a child should carry no more than 10 to 15 percent of their body weight in their packs. This means that your 40-pound kindergartener’s pack should weigh between four and six pounds.
“To know how heavy backpacks can affect a kid’s body, it helps to understand how the back works,” says KidsHealth.org. “The spine is made of 33 bones called vertebrae, and between the vertebrae are discs that act as natural shock absorbers.
“When a heavy weight, such as a backpack filled with books, is incorrectly placed on the shoulders, the weight’s force can pull a child backward. To compensate, a child may bend forward at the hips or arch the back, which can cause the spine to compress unnaturally. The heavy weight might cause some kids to develop shoulder, neck, and back pain.”
Some kids will carry their backpacks on one shoulder. They may think it looks cool, but in reality they may end up leaning to one side to offset the weight putting more strain on their shoulders and neck.
KidsHealth also says that girls and younger children are at higher risk for backpack-related injuries because they’re typically smaller and may try to carry a pack that is disproportionate to their height and 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,” KidsHealth says.
Backpacks can cause more than back problems. Carrying a large pack makes your child much wider than he typically is and he might hit other kids when turning around. Tripping over packs or having them fall on your child’s precious toes is common. Also, heavy packs can decrease your child’s ability to balance herself increasing the risk of falling down stairs.
What to do? First, put your child’s fully packed backpack on the bathroom scale to see how much it weighs. Then teach your kids how to use their pack properly.
“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. 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,” KidsHealth recommends.
One day, all children will need to carry is their electronic tablet, but until that happens, protect your children from life-long chronic pain by making sure they’re not lugging around more than their growing bodies can handle.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or firstname.lastname@example.org.