As a father of five, I’ve had dozens of conversations with my kids about different safety issues over the years. We’ve talked about riding bikes safely, crossing the street, seatbelts, strangers, drugs and alcohol, good nutrition, fire safety, playground safety and other topics that always come to the forefront as kids go back to school.
One safety issue related to our kids that’s often overlooked is the issue of backpack safety. In fact, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that more than 14,000 children are treated for backpack-related injuries each year, and about 5,000 end up in the emergency room.
Kids often end up with pain in the upper back, neck and hips because they lean forward to carry heavy backpacks. Shoulders and knees can become tight and stiff. Musculoskeletal injuries can be aggravated. Kids can lose their balance and injure themselves or others.
The problem isn’t the backpacks themselves. In fact, backpacks represent a healthy way to carry weight because they’re designed to balance the load across the human body’s strongest muscles in the back and abdomen. The problems are related to heavy loads and improper use.
The first step to preventing backpack-related injuries is to control the amount of weight carried by kids in their backpacks. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends a weight of no more than 10-15 percent of a child’s body weight. Show them proper lifting techniques so they bend at the knees and pick up their backpack with both hands.
But the weight of the bag is just the beginning. Make sure your kids use both straps instead of slinging the backpack over one shoulder. This can provide balanced support and prevent too much stress on one side of the spine.
To keep the weight evenly distributed and enable kids to walk with proper posture, use a backpack with a padded waste or chest strap, and teach children to pack heavier books and supplies closer to their back. The weight of the backpack should never fall below the belt, so take a few minutes to adjust the straps as needed.
Fortunately, the risk of long-term muscle or bone damage caused by a backpack is relatively small. However, serious injuries can result from a lack of stability and balance caused by a backpack that’s too heavy, improperly packed, or improperly used. This can cause harm to the child wearing the backpack, as well as other children.
Backpack safety is just like any other safety issue. Have a conversation with your children. Practice packing, lifting and carrying the backpack. Check the weight of their backpacks and eliminate unnecessary weight. Watch how they walk.
If your child complains of pain or appears to be walking gingerly or awkwardly, let us identify the problem and recommend how to strengthen and support the growing body. Chiropractors are trained to identify, evaluate and treat neuro musculoskeletal disorders caused by heavy lifting and muscular imbalances, whether they’re caused by playing sports, sitting on a wallet, or carrying a backpack incorrectly.
With all of the things we worry about when our kids leave for school each day, the last thing we want to add to the list is pain caused by a backpack. Parents, let’s invest in quality backpacks, make sure our kids know how to use them, and get them the help they need if they’re in pain.