As you make your way through your back-to-school checklist, there’s one item that could directly affect your child’s health. The backpack. While style, color, and the latest “in” logos may be uppermost in your child’s mind, how the backpack is constructed and how it will be worn should be top priority. That’s because a poorly designed backpack can lead to chronic back pain — and that may interfere with your child’s performance in school.
A backpack that is too heavy can pull your child’s spine into a backward-leaning position. Wearing it over one shoulder can cause your child to lean to one side. Either way, it can cause back, shoulder, or neck pain, or lead to bad posture. Narrow, unpadded straps can dig into the shoulders, leading to poor circulation. This can cause numbness, tingling, or weakness in the arms and hands. Overloaded, bulky backpacks make it hard for your child to judge distance, causing bumps, trips, and increasing the risk of falling, especially on stairs.
How to Choose a Backpack
According to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA), size matters. The backpack should never be wider or longer than your child’s torso, and the pack should not hang more than four inches below the waistline. The ACA also recommends that children never carry more than 10 percent of their body weight.
Doctors in the Division of Orthopaedic Surgery at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center recommend these additional simple guidelines to prevent unnecessary injuries throughout the school year:
- Make sure your child’s backpack has two wide and padded shoulder straps, a cushioned back, and waist straps.
- Encourage children to use both shoulder straps and make sure the straps are tight.
- Organize supplies and books so that the heaviest items are closest to the center of the back and all compartments are used.
- Persuade children to stop at their lockers often so they’re not carrying all of their books throughout the day.
- Remind children to bend using both knees when lifting a backpack.
- Remind children to not leave backpacks on the floor where others can trip over them, and not to swing them around where they may hit others.
Signs that your child’s backpack is causing problems include:
- poor posture
- persistent back, shoulder, or neck pain
- numbness, tingling, or weakness in arms and hands
- red marks or deep lines on the shoulders
- struggling when putting the backpack on or taking it off
If your child complains about persistent back, shoulder, or neck pain, or suffers from poor posture, consult with your pediatrician.
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