Unlike many years ago when students just carried their books covered with a paper bag, children today have backpacks stuffed with heavy books with specially designed elastic covers. Excel Physical Therapy in Glen Mills, and Media Pa., have a therapist on-site to help with choosing the proper backpack and fit specific to your child’s body size and shape or physical limitations. If your child has back issues, Excel has therapists available to help with posture, muscular imbalances and pain.
Your spine is made of 33 bones called vertebrae. Between the vertebrae are disks that act as natural shock absorbers. When you put a heavy weight on your shoulders in the wrong way, the weight’s force can pull you backward. To compensate, you may bend forward at the hips or arch your back. This can cause your spine to compress unnaturally.(www.spine-health.com)
Backpack safety tips:
- Wear both straps. If your child wears only one strap it will cause them to lean to one side to bear the weight of the backpack. This may lead to poor posture which will then lead to back problems. The spine leans to the opposite side, stressing the middle back, ribs and lower back more on one side than the other. This type of muscle imbalance can cause muscle strain, muscle spasm and back pain in the short term and speed the development of back problems later in life if not corrected. The weight can also pull on the neck muscles, contributing to headache, neck pain and arm pain.
- Use the strongest back muscles. Position the backpack evenly in the middle of the back. Straps should be adjusted that your child should be able to easily remove and replace backpack. Arms should have freedom of movement. If straps are too lose the backpack will reside on the lower part of the child’s back, which will cause them to tilt forward to compensate. Conversely if the straps are too tight and narrow and they dig into your shoulders, it can pinch nerves and interfere with circulation, and you might develop tingling, numbness, and weakness in your arms and hands.(kidshealth.org)
- Lighter load. A guideline backpack weight limit as a percent of the child’s body weight. The American Physical Therapy Association suggests 15-20%; the American Chiropractic Association advises 5-10%. Items should be organized such that the heaviest is located closest to the middle of the child’s back.
Signs your child may have back problems by Sarah Walmsley, PT
- Does your child walk sideways or bend forward to help compensate for the heavy load?
- Do they complain about tingling or numbness in the arms or hands?
- Do they complain of back pain
A heavy weight carried in backpacks can:
- Cause a person to lean forward, reducing balance and making it easier to fall
- Cause muscle strain and irritation to the spine joints and the rib cage
- Cause hunching of the shoulders.
Medical Research on Backpacks(spine-health.com)
Medical reviews show inconsistent recommendations on how to avoid back pain in children who carry backpacks. However, the literature currently suggests there is little chance a child will be permanently injured by carrying a heavy backpack.
- Several authors suggest limiting the backpack weight to 10-15% of the child’s body weight is reasonable. These authors acknowledged that this recommendation is not based on scientific research.
- One article found no correlation between backpack weight and back pain, and the authors were unwilling to recommend a backpack weight guideline for children.
- Another article investigated the correlation between spinal deformity and how the child wears the backpack. They did not investigate whether children who carry heavy packs are more likely to experience long term spinal deformity.
Look for backpack features that help reduce the chance of back pain:
- Lightweight material (canvas as opposed to leather)
- Two padded, wide (2-inches), adjustable shoulder straps on the backpack
- Padded back
- Individualized compartments
- Hip strap, waist belt or frame to redistribute the weight of the backpack from the shoulders and back to the pelvis
- Wheels so that the backpack can be pulled rather than carried.
- Suggest to your child to carry only those books needed in the backpack, leaving unnecessary items at home.
- Encourage your child to clean out the backpack at least once a week.
- Use your locker. Try not to load up on the textbooks for a full day’s classes. Make locker trips to drop off heavy textbooks or extra stuff, like gym clothes or project materials. An added benefit is that you’ll get more exercise going back and forth to your locker. If you do not a book until the afternoon, leave it.
- Plan your homework. Plan ahead and spread your homework out over the course of the week so you won’t have to tote all your books home on the weekend.
- Get two sets of books. If your school has extra copies of some of your books, ask if you can borrow them so you can keep a set at home.
- Lift it up properly. As with any heavy weight, you should bend at the knees when lifting a backpack to your shoulders.
- Strengthen your core. A great way to prevent back injury is to strengthen the stabilizing muscles of your torso, including your lower back and abdominal muscles. Weight training, pilates, and yoga are all activities that can be effective in strengthening these core muscles.