Oh, My Aching Back!

When children say their schoolwork is back-breaking, they might just be right!  The problem is their backpacks – heavily loaded with notebooks, schoolbooks, supplies, and sports equipment.  It is not just a hassle to carry  a heavy backpack; it can be dangerous.  Children are at risk of muscle fatigue or injury to their spine or shoulders when they carry backpacks that weigh more than 20 percent of their body weight.

That means a 100- pound child should be carrying no more than 20 pounds.  Yet many elementary and middle school students are lugging around backpacks far heavier than 20 pounds.  The following tips may help reduce the risk of injury for your child:

  • GET OUT THE SCALE.  Weigh your child’s backpack when full.  Then weigh your child.  The backpack should be no more than 20% of their body weight.
  • LIGHTEN UP.  Do your children carry a lot of unnecessary “stuff” in their backpacks?  Check to see what really must go to school each day.
  • A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING.  Show your children how to load their backpacks so that the heaviest items (books, notebooks) are next to their backs, with lighter things further out.
  • BUCKLE UP.  Get your children backpacks with hip straps that connect in front like a belt.  Have your children use the hip strap for additional support whenever carrying heavy loads.
  • A CUSHY SOLUTION.  Look for backpacks that have wide, padded straps to help keep them from digging into their shoulders.  Some packs even come with padded backs.
  • TWO ARMS ARE  BETTER THAN ONE.  While it may look “cool” to sling a backpack over one shoulder, it’s a serious mistake when the pack is heavy.  Instruct your children to use both straps for even balance.
  • MAKE IT FIT.  The bottom of the backpack should rest two inches above your child’s waist.  Adjust the shoulder straps accordingly.
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