Nowadays, with the intense amount of homework a student has to go through, the school bag is the essential tool for carrying books, school supplies, and all the essentials our kids need to survive a day.
By now, most parents know that a backpack is the preferred type of school bag. However, what we do not necessarily know is that the weight of the bag as well as the way students carry their bags can lead to back pain or neck pain, affect your child’s posture, and possibly lead to more severe conditions like scoliosis, a deformation of the spine.
According to the American Physical Therapy Association, the weight of a student’s backpack must not exceed 10-15% of a child’s body weight.
When carried correctly, it keeps the weight distributed evenly across the back; they’re a great way to keep stuff handy and can even help strengthen the muscles that help support the spine. On the other hand, when carried incorrectly – for example, over one shoulder — a backpack can create muscular imbalances surrounding the spine, which leads to back and neck pain.
Signs that their backpack is too heavy:
- Pain or tiredness when carrying the backpack
- Change in posture
- Feeling of numbness or tingling sensation in the shoulder and or hands
According to a survey conducted by the North American Spine Society, 42.6% of children or teens treated were suffering from back pain or spine trauma caused by overloaded or improperly used backpacks. The diagnoses ranged from cervical, thoracic and lumbar strain to even stress fractures in the vertebra (Spondylolysis).
How can you help as a parent?
When choosing a backpack, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends looking for the following for your child:
- Lightweight yet durable construction that doesn’t add to the load. (Leather, for example, looks cool but is a lot heavier than nylon or canvas.)
- Wide, padded shoulder straps, as narrow straps tend to dig into the shoulders.
- Padded back, which not only boosts comfort, but also protects against sharp objects in the pack.
- Waist strap, to help distribute weight more evenly across the body.
- Multiple compartments, which can also help distribute weight more evenly.
Prevent injury when using a backpack:
- Pack lightly. The backpack and contents shouldn’t exceed 10-15% of the child’s body weight. Girls and younger children should aim for the lower end of the percentage range.
- Organize. Pack heavier items closest to the back.
Pack items in compartments so that the weight is evenly distributed.
- Use both shoulder straps to distribute the weight evenly across the back.
- Tighten the straps to keep the backpack close to the body. The backpack should rest evenly in the middle of the back. Make sure the backpack does not extend below the low back.
- Use a locker. Don’t carry everything needed for the day all the time. Leave unnecessary gadgets at home
- Squat down, bending at the knees, not at the waist, when lifting or lowering a heavy backpack.
- Do back strengthening exercises to build up the muscles that support the spine.
At the end of the day, the best thing your child can receive is constant TLC (tender loving care). Be observant and sensitive when your child expresses discomfort when wearing and removing their backpacks. Encourage your child to tell you about any pain or other symptoms they may be experiencing. If the symptoms persist, make an appointment with your pediatrician or orthopedic doctor. Although a backpack won’t cause scoliosis, it can disguise a spinal curve that may be developing. Onset most commonly takes place during the “growing years” of 9-15, so be sure that your child is screened regularly for the condition.
“Prevention is better than cure.” – Desiderius Erasmus