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Backpack Tips for Students and Parents

September 21 is National Backpack Awareness Day.  Join the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) and your local school to ensure your child is loading and wearing their backpack appropriately.  These tips from AOTA can help:

Aching backs and shoulders? Tingling arms? Weakened muscles? Stooped posture? Does your child have these symptoms after wearing a heavy school backpack? Carrying too much weight in a pack or wearing it the wrong way can lead to pain and strain. Parents can take steps to help children load and wear backpacks the correct way to avoid health problems.

Loading a Pack

  • A child’s backpack should weigh no more than about 10% of his or her body weight. This means a student weighing 100 pounds shouldn’t wear a loaded school backpack heavier than about 10 pounds.
  • Load heaviest items closest to the child’s back (the back of the pack).
  • Arrange books and materials so they won’t slide around in the backpack.
  • Check what your child carries to school and brings home. Make sure the items are necessary for the day’s activities.
  • If the backpack is too heavy or tightly packed, your child can hand carry a book or other item outside the pack.
  • If the backpack is too heavy on a regular basis, consider using a book bag on wheels if your child’s school allows it.

Wearing a Pack

  • Distribute weight evenly by using both straps. Wearing a pack slung over one shoulder can cause a child to lean to one side, curving the spine and causing pain or discomfort.
  • Select a pack with well-padded shoulder straps. Shoulders and necks have many blood vessels and nerves that can cause pain and tingling in the neck, arms, and hands when too much pressure is applied.
  • Adjust the shoulder straps so that the pack fits snugly on the child’s back. A pack that hangs loosely from the back can pull the child backwards and strain muscles.
  • Wear the waist belt if the backpack has one. This helps distribute the pack’s weight more evenly.
  • The bottom of the pack should rest in the curve of the lower back. It should
    never rest more than four inches below the child’s waistline.
  • School backpacks come in different sizes for different ages. Choose the right size pack for your child as well as one with enough room for necessary school items.

Need More Information? For more facts on backpack safety, visit AOTA’s webpage.

Teen Girls at Highest Risk of Schoolbag-Linked Back Pain

Adolescent girls have the highest risk of suffering from intense back pain related to schoolbag use, according to a study published in the June issue of The Spine Journal.

Irene Aprile, M.D., from the Don Carlo Gnocchi Foundation in Italy, and colleagues conducted a cross-sectional study involving 5,318 healthy pupils aged 6 to 19 years to examine back pain due to schoolbag use. Participants were interviewed face to face using an ad hoc questionnaire. Pain intensity was assessed using the Wong scale. Participants were classified into two groups: no or mild pain and moderate or severe pain.

The researchers found that more than 60 percent of participants reported pain. Schoolbag-related pain increased significantly from children to young and older adolescents despite a decrease in load. More frequent and more severe pain was reported by girls compared with boys. Adolescent girls were found to be at greatest risk of suffering from intense pain. Schoolbag load weakly impacted back pain, while carrying time was a strong predictor.

“Adolescent girls have the highest risk of experiencing severe back pain, regardless of schoolbag load. This suggests that other factors (anatomical, physiological, or environmental) might play an important role in pain perception,” the authors write. “These aspects should be investigated to plan appropriate preventive and rehabilitative strategies.”

Source:  Physicians Briefing

Choosing a Backpack for Your Child

Your child’s school backpack will probably be the hardest-working item in your back to school shopping. The backpack will be used every day to take items to and from school. It needs to withstand daily use including traveling to and from school, locker storage, and the rough treatment that children dish out on their belongings.

Quality Counts in Backpacks

To look for a quality backpack, Consumer Reports magazine suggests you look over the backpack, inside and out, and keep an eye on the following:

  • Loose, uneven or careless stitching that could easily come undone.
  • Raw or frayed fabric edges which could unravel.
  • Zippers that are openly exposed to weather. Instead, opt for zippers that have fabric flaps over them to keep water and other elements out of the backpack.

A Backpack Needs to Fit Properly

Backpacks that do not fit properly, or are used incorrectly, have the potential to cause back and shoulder strain or pain.

To find a backpack with the proper fit, follow these tips:

  • Choose the proper size: The width of a backpack should be relatively proportionate to the person’s width. For instance, a small child should not opt for an adult-sized backpack. Further, the backpack’s height should extend from approximately two inches below the shoulder blades to waist level, or just slightly above the waist.
  • Straps are important features: Consider broad straps with padding for the shoulder, both to offer more comfort, and protect the shoulders from excessive pressure. Adjustable straps are useful, not just for proper fit but for proper positioning – again, the backpack should sit just slightly above the waist and both straps should stay even in length.
  • Evenly distribute the weight: Consider backpacks that offer pockets, slots and dividers to help evenly distribute extra weight. Heavier items should be placed closer to the person’s back, within the pack. Lighter items may sit further from the body.
  • Don’t over pack: The backpack, as well as its contents, shouldn’t total more than 15% of a person’s weight: A 100-pound child’s filled backpack shouldn’t exceed 15 pounds, while a 60-pound child shouldn’t carry more than 9 pounds.

Some backpacks offer chest or waist straps designed to help distribute weight. It is important to make sure that these straps sit properly on your child. If they do not sit properly on your child, they will not help distribute weight and may even lead to discomfort.

  • A hip belt should wrap around your child’s hips.
  • A chest strap should be adjusted to bring the shoulder straps in so the arms can move freely.
  • The height of the chest strap should be placed where it is the most comfortable for the child.