Fall 2012
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Banish Backpacks That Are Too Heavy


It's that time of year! For many, back-to-school means a flurry of activity getting new school supplies, clothes and, of course, the fashion statement backpack.

Backpacks are great for carrying books, lunches and many other things. But if they're not used right, they can cause health problems like strained muscles and back pain. That's why it's important to teach your kids about backpack safety. Children can get hurt by regularly carrying too much weight or by not wearing backpacks safely.

According to American Society of Pediatrics, backpacks that cause problems are usually too heavy or worn incorrectly. This can lead to injured muscles and joints or severe back, neck and joint pain, as well as posture problems.

Share these tips so you and your family use backpacks safely.

Choose the right backpack.

Look for:

  • Light weight. Leather backpacks may look nice, but other materials, like canvas or nylon, weigh less.
  • Wide, padded shoulder straps. A loaded pack will dig into shoulders if the straps are too skinny. Narrow straps can dig into the shoulders causing pain and restricting circulation.
  • Waist belt. This is an important feature. It takes some weight off the back and transfers it to the hips.
  • Handy compartments. The more, the better. They help distribute the weight evenly. They also make packs easier to organize.
  • Padded back. This keeps sharp edges from digging into the back.
  • Wheels. These are nice if your child need to carry a lot. But check with your child's school to make sure they're allowed. Remember that these packs will still have to be carried up stairs. And they can get messy when pulled through mud.

Pack it safely.

  • Experts say a child shouldn't carry more than 15 to 20 percent of his or her weight. Don't guess use your bathroom scale to weigh the loaded pack.
  • Pack the heaviest items closest to the back. Packs with compartments make this easier to do.
  • Talk to your child about using his or her locker to keep from carrying everything around all day.

Lift it safely.

  • Never bend down from the waist to pick up or set down a heavy pack.
  • Always squat down, bending at the knee and keeping your back straight.
  • If necessary, put one knee on the floor and the other knee in front of you while you lift the pack and swing it around to your back.

Wear it safely.

  • Pack wearers should use both shoulder straps. It may seem easier or more comfortable to sling the pack over just one shoulder, but that's a bad habit that can lead to back or shoulder pain.
  • Always use the waist belt and tighten all the straps so the pack fits snugly.
  • Make sure your child stands up straight while wearing a backpack. If he or she must lean forward, the pack is too heavy.
  • If your child is having back pain or neck soreness, talk to your doctor. Encourage your child to tell you about any pain or soreness.

American Academy of Pediatrics
Healthwise Health Library

Banish Backpacks That Are Too Heavy

Good Health for Kids is produced by Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas.