Lighten Up, Kids! Backpack Safety For Your Child

backpack

By Judith Reppucci, Marketing Liaison,
Harbor Community Health Center and Ellen Jones Community Health Center

If it seems as though children today are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders, you may be right – and we mean that in a literal way. When a child or teen is toting a backpack stuffed not only with textbooks and devices, but musical instruments, sports equipment and more, it all adds up to a heavy load. And since September 18 is National School Backpack Awareness Day, today is a good opportunity to check your own child’s backpack for its actual weight.

Misuse of backpacks may well cause injuries, according to Nurse Trainer and Consultant, Michelle Aceto, R.N. Often, she says, “children and teenagers are in a rush and not mindful. They don’t think they’ll get injured, and they’re so resilient, they sometimes don’t realize their health is affected until it’s too late.”

As a softball and volleyball coach for several Barnstable-area programs, Michelle has witnessed the effect that improper backpack usage can have on school-age athletes. “For example, I have a pitcher who started having hip problems,” she says. “Her physical therapist saw her coming in after school with the backpack slung low, and said ‘aha!’ Once we got her to start wearing it the right way, her hip problems went away.”

Michelle took a few moments from her work at Harbor Community Health Center in Hyannis to answer our questions on backpack safety:

What health problems are related to improper backpack use?
We’re seeing a lot of chronic back pain issues. There can be neck pain and a myriad of other issues, including weakness, numbness and tingling in the hands. Sometimes the pain can last even through the summer after school is over. Some kids have red marks, and their posture changes.

Their postures change?
Yes. They’re carrying the heaviest part of the pack too low. The shoulder straps are fully extended and the majority of the weight is carried below the waist. As a result, their weight is thrown off and not evenly distributed. They’re leaning forward, and often, their necks are lifting up to compensate. That creates pain, especially in the lower back. And sometimes, to look “cooler,” kids use a single strap, which causes the spine to lean to the side.

Tell us how to wear a backpack properly.
The proper way to carry a backpack is just above the waist. Both shoulder straps should be fitted evenly, with the heaviest part of the pack never more than 2 to 4 inches below the waistline. That allows the spines to stay in line and keeps the core muscles engaged in the proper way. Never use only one strap. That causes a curve in the spine as the child bends over to the side and forces the muscles and ligaments to perform in ways they weren’t meant to.

Any tips on buying a backpack?
The smaller the backpack, the better. Don’t get anything bigger than you really need, because the tendency is to fill it. Sturdy, padded shoulder straps are good, and waist belts are even better if you can get kids to use them. Many new backpacks come with padding in the back for a laptop, which protects the spine as well.

Anything else?
Wheels! I’d love to see more bags with wheels. A lot of kids are carrying not just a backpack but a bag for their team sports. If you’re a catcher on my team, that can be another 35 lbs., so I encourage all my athletes to carry bags on wheels. And I also challenge parents to fit the backpack to the correct ergonomics and trim off the excess strapping so kids can’t wear the packs improperly.

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