Backpacks are packed and students are back in school! A main staple of back-to-school shopping is the backpack. While it seems that this item is a simple choice, recent research has shown that your choice could cause back pain in your child. Half of all students are carrying twice the recommended weight on their back (many times just slung over one shoulder) which may lead to back pain and stress injuries that may worsen over time.

When shopping for a backpack, it is important to purchase a backpack that fits the child rather than the size of the items being carried. It is also important to teach your child the proper body mechanics when lifting and applying their backpack. Traditional style backpacks with two padded thick straps and a waist strap help to distribute the weight. Backpacks may also change your center of gravity, so be aware of this while climbing stairs or transferring from positions.

How Can Backpacks Cause Problems?

Your spine is made of 33 bones called vertebrae. Between the vertebrae are disks that act as natural shock absorbers. When you place 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. Over time this can cause the shoulders to become rounded and the upper back to become curved.

Children who carry heavy backpacks sometimes lean forward. A backpack, including the items in the backpack, should not weigh more than 10-15% of the student’s body weight. Organize the heavier items closest to the back. In addition, wearing the backpack over just one shoulder, or carry books in a messenger bag, will cause the child to one side to compensate for the extra weight. This can cause lower and upper back pain and strain the neck and shoulders. In this way, not using a backpack properly can lead to bad posture.

In addition, this added weight could lead to nerve damage. Tight, narrow straps that dig into the shoulders can pinch nerves and interfere with circulation, and children might develop tingling, numbness and weakness in their hands and arms.

Carrying a heavy pack also increases the risk of falling, particularly on stairs or other places where the backpack puts the wearer off balance. When carrying a large backpack, children are often unaware of how much space the packs take up and can hit other children or objects when turning around or moving through tight spaces. 

In an effort to combat this all too common problem, parents must make the conscious effort to ensure their child’s backpack is not too heavy for their body weight. 

Signs Your Backpack is Too Heavy

If you think your child’s backpack is too heavy, chances are that it is. These are some common signs that suggest the backpack you are carrying is too heavy: 

  • Hard to put on and take off 
  • They feel strain in their neck and shoulders 
  • The straps leave marks on their neck and shoulders 
  • They experience tingling or numbness in hands and arms
  • Their posture changes – they lean more forward, backward, or to one side, etc.  

You may also notice that your child is hunching their shoulders and they appear to round their shoulders from a side view. This suggests that their backpack is causing improper posture which generally leads to neck pain, back pain, shoulder pain and lower back pain. 

Choosing a Backpack to Avoid Back Problems

Modern backpacks are available in a wide variety of colors and designs, but that decision should be secondary when it comes to picking out a new backpack for your child. Instead, you need to choose a backpack that will reduce the chance for back problems

Look for one that has the following features:

    • Two wide, padded, adjustable shoulder straps
    • Waist or chest strap
    • Padded, structured back
  • Should weigh no more than 5 to 10 percent of child’s body weight
    • No wider than the student’s chest
  • Should never hang more than four inches below the waistline 
  • Individualized compartments helps in positioning the contents most effectively

How to Properly Wear a Backpack

Most backpack-related injuries can be attributed to improper use, including tripping over backpacks, injuries to the face from kids swinging packs around, and shoulder injuries from improperly lifting heavy backpacks. Talk to your child about dos and don’ts of basic backpack use.

It is important to not only pick a proper backpack, but you must also wear it correctly to get the full benefits. To prevent back injury, talk with your child and be sure he/she is carrying the backpack properly. 

  • Urge your child to wear both shoulder straps to help distribute the weight equally across the back.
  • Tighten the straps so that the backpack is closer to the back and not sagging down around the hips.
  • Keep the backpack as light as possible; the backpack should weigh no more than 10 percent of the student’s body weight. 
  • When carrying heavier items, place them in the center of the backpack closest to the body. When needing to make a backpack lighter, the student can carry a book/books by hand.
  • Encourage your children to use their locker instead of carrying around the entire days’ worth of books in their backpack.
  • If your child constantly needs to carry multiple textbooks, talk to the school. Work with school officials to find a solution to lessen the student’s load.

Call Ventura Orthopedics Today!

Remember to check in with your body. If you are experiencing pain in your shoulders, neck or back or if you feel numbness or tingling in your hands and arms, it may be time to consult a medical professional.

The experienced and dedicated orthopedic surgeons at Ventura Orthopedics are here for you. If you are concerned about problems that you are experiencing with your shoulders, neck or back, talk to the experts at Ventura Orthopedics today. Call us today at 800-698-1280 to schedule an appointment.

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