How to Eliminate Back Pack Pain This School Year
It’s time for students all over North Texas to head back to school, meaning it’s time for mom and dad to shell out the big bucks for back-to-school clothes and shoes in larger sizes, fresh school supplies and a new backpack. Before you purchase a bag big enough to render your child’s locker obsolete, read on for some information on how to select the best backpack for his or her needs.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) points to backpacks as the most practical way for children and teens to carry their school and personal items, as they distribute the weight among some of the body’s strongest muscles. The AAP recommends lightweight, padded backpacks with two wide straps, as cross-body styles and messenger bags don’t distribute the load as well.
According to the National Safety Council (NSC), overloaded backpacks can cause back, neck and shoulder pain and poor posture, which can be especially troubling in still-growing young bodies. And while it may be tempting to load up their backpacks with every book, binder and tablet they’ll need throughout the day, experts say it’s best to keep backpacks as light as possible.
Renato Bosita, Jr., M.D., spinal surgeon and physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Plano, says kids should limit the weight of their backpacks to 10-15 percent of their body weight, including the backpack itself.
“Some kids routinely carry around too much weight on their backs but significant problems may not manifest until years later,” he says. “Theoretically any sort of overuse for a child, whether carrying a backpack or anything else, can lead to problems down the road. For instance, youth baseball pitchers may deal with deformities in their elbows due to overuse.
“In the same way, overly heavy backpacks increase the load on the lumbar spine, which can lead to aggravation and accelerated degeneration of discs. These kids may not feel pain at the time, but they’re the ones that will be coming to see me with problems in their 20s, 30s and 40s because of issues that started developing when they were kids.”
The NSC provides the following suggestions to help students and parents select the right backpack.
What to look for:
- Correct sizing (never longer than a child’s torso or hanging more than four inches below the waist)
- Adjustable, padded back and shoulder straps
- Hip and chest belts to help transfer weight across the hips and upper body
- Multiple compartments to better distribute contents and weight
- Compression straps on the sides or bottom to stabilize contents
- Reflective material
It’s also important to choose an appropriately sized backpack that will hold only what your child will need, as he or she will likely fill it up with unnecessary items if the extra space is there.
Bosita says that while kids may eventually carry less weight in their backpacks due to increased technology use in schools, heavy books will likely always be an issue for some.
“It’s definitely a period of transition and school districts are going with more and more web-based learning platforms,” he says. “There will be more iPads and tablet-based learning in the future but I think textbooks will always have a place for kids that want to highlight and take notes, so we’ll just have to see how students adapt.”
Once you’ve got the right backpack, it’s just as important to use it properly. The AAP offers the following tips to help students correctly use their backpacks:
- Always use both shoulder straps. Slinging a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles, while wearing a backpack on one shoulder may increase curvature of the spine.
- Tighten the straps so the pack is close to the body, ideally two inches above the waist.
- Organize the backpack to use all of its compartments. Pack heavier items closest to the center of the back.
- Stop often at school lockers. Do not carry all of the books needed for the day if at all possible.
- Bend using both knees. Do not bend over at the waist when wearing or lifting a heavy backpack.
- Learn back-strengthening exercises to build up the muscles used to carry a backpack.
If your student complains of persistent back, neck or shoulder pain and/or tingling or numbness in the hands or arms, Bosita says parents should help evaluate his or her backpack before taking more drastic measures.
“The first thing is to check the backpack’s weight and the fit because many kids have backpacks that are just too big for them,” he explains. “Also, the straps may be loose so the bag hangs down too low, which can also cause problems. Ask your child to clean his or her bag out once a month to throw out unnecessary items and limit trinkets hanging on the outside of the bag.
“Address the practical issues first, but if a child is still complaining about pain, have it checked out. Chronic pain for children isn’t normal, so a pediatrician can do a workup to find out what the problem is and refer them to a specialist if needed.”
In addition to buying the perfect backpack, be sure your student knows how to use it properly in order to minimize pain and potential injuries before that first school bell rings. Getting to class on time may be a pain in the neck, but carrying a backpack shouldn’t be.