Backpacks have become standard issue for today’s student. Carrying heavy books on the back is a big improvement from the hand-held book satchels I carried growing up. However, in 1998, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported over 12,000 visits to emergency rooms for backpack-related injuries to 5 – 18 year olds. If backpacks are an improvement, why are our children having more back, neck and shoulder pains?
The primary culprit is overloaded book bags. Ideally, a loaded book bag should weigh no more than 10% of the child’s body weight. For example, a 70 lb. child should not carry more than 7 pounds on his back. Considering that most book bags weigh several pounds empty, that does not leave much room for heavy books.
Pay close attention to how your child wears his backpack. Many children will swing it up on one shoulder only, not taking time to properly put on both straps. This can cause unilateral neck, shoulder and upper back strain and even headaches. What can a parent do to ensure a healthy spine for their child while carrying a backpack?
1. When purchasing a backpack, take into consideration the empty weight. Many of the more expensive book bags are made with lighter weight stronger material. The price difference can be well worth the investment. It is also likely to last longer and not tear as easily. That’s good for your child as well as your wallet. Also look for wide, well-padded shoulder straps that won’t dig into the child’s skin.
2. Stress to your child the importance of wearing the backpack in the center of the back with both shoulder straps in place.
3. Weigh your child’s backpack fully loaded. Take out whatever is possible to bring it within 10 – 15% (max.) of your child’s body weight.
4. Remember, your child’s health is your responsibility. If your child is bringing home too many heavy books, talk to his teacher. Often, a second set of books can be issued to stay at home for homework. Make sure the teacher understands your health and safety concerns. Many times, a homework handout can be used instead of bringing home a heavy book. If necessary, involve the school’s administration. Sometimes, educators have to be educated, too!
5. If your child has complaints of headaches, neck, back or shoulder pain, don’t ignore it! Have them checked out by a competent doctor. Get a doctor’s excuse if necessary, stating the amount of weight your child can safely carry. Make sure the teacher is aware of the problem. Working together, we can ensure a healthier, safer child.
DiSCLAIMER: The content of this site is offered as educational material for parents, not as medical advice. If you have a question about a specific condition or symptom your child has then you need to consult a medical professional.