The signs in front of local schools do not carry a message that most kids want to hear — “School Begins in Early August.” In spite of protests, our kids are now making the usual preparations: buying school supplies, school clothes and often a new backpack. Whether old or new, some guidelines for using backpacks will come in handy for both youth and their parents.
Several different medical and consumer organizations have developed guidelines for using backpacks to prevent injury and medical problems. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) indicates that nearly 14,000 youth are treated (annually) in hospitals or doctors’ offices for backpack-related injuries. Far more injuries go unreported. In addition to immediate injuries such as muscle strains and back, neck, and shoulder pain, incorrect use of backpacks can lead to poor posture (but not scoliosis) and muscle imbalance over time.
As your kids prepare for school you (and your kids) may want to consider several guidelines derived from the AAOS, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the National Safety Council (NSC).
• Limit backpack weight to 10-20 percent of body weight (NSC and AAP). The AAOS recommends 10-15 percent.
• Choose a backpack with TWO wide padded shoulder straps. Always use both shoulder straps to properly balance the weight of the pack.
• Tighten the backpack using the appropriate straps. This keeps the backpack closer to the back and avoids movement of the pack. Teach your child how to use these straps properly.
• Consider a waist strap to avoid excessive movement of a backpack, especially if the pack will be carried a considerable distance.
• Organize the back to prevent movement of objects. Keep heavy objects at the center, not the sides and low in the backpack.
• Carry only necessary objects to lighten the pack.
• At school unload heavy objects into a desk or locker. Pick up objects as needed to limit backpack weight.
• Use the leg muscles when standing up with a backpack. Avoid bending forward at the waist while carrying the pack; this creates considerable stress on the back muscles.
• Place backpacks in a safe location when not wearing them to avoid tripping.
• Do exercises to build the muscles of the back and shoulders to allow efficient carrying.
Parents may want to consider these suggestions from the AAOS.
• Talk to your kids about pain or discomfort associated with carrying a backpack (including tingling and numbness).
• Watch your child put on and take off the backpack to see that it is done properly. Watch your child walk with the pack.
• Talk to the school if the weight of books and other required objects exceeds the limits of what your child should be carrying.
• Be sure that schools offer desks or lockers where books and heavy objects can be stored to lighten the load during the day. Also check to see if enough time is allocated to visit lockers.
• Consider having a second set of books at home if your child has back or shoulder problems.
More information is available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00043 and http://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-play/Pages/Backpack-Safety.aspx.
• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Dr. Chuck Corbin is professor emeritus at Arizona State University and author of many books and articles on fitness and wellness.