Backpacks are part of the back-to-school supplies for nearly every child from preschool to graduate school. But with them come neck, back and shoulder pain, according to Barbara Kornblau, Professor of Occupational Therapy and Public Health at Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale.
Backpacks should not exceed more than 15% of the wearer's body weight. That means if your preteen weighs 100 pounds, the backpack shouldn't weigh more than 15 pounds--unless the backpack is on wheels, not on the user's back. Many students won't use backpacks on wheels because they aren't considered cool. Some schools have banned rolling backpacks due to the extra room they take up and accidents caused by students pulling backpacks.
Kornblau finds that the "cool factor" often outweighs safety when it comes to wearing a backpack. "The trend in many school is to wear the backpack on just one shoulder. The weight causes the student to lean to the side, curving the spine and causing discomfort."
The proper way to wear a backpack is on both shoulders with straps adjusted so it fits snuggly on the back with the bottom against the curve of the back. Wearing the pack too low or loose can pull a child backward and cause muscle strain. A waist strap is a plus, too, as it helps distribute the weight. Wearing the backpack like this might not be cool, but it's the only way to avoid strains and injuries.
Another thing Kornblau suggest is pulling out extra items in already overloaded backpacks. "It's not just the heavy books causing the problem," Kornblau says. "You'll find iPods, cell phones, water bottles--even laptops in backpacks." The ideal solution would be for textbook publishers to make books that weigh less, perhaps divide the book into two or three smaller books, but until that happens, students should be encouraged to leave books at school that they don't need and pack the rest so that the weight is evenly distributed.
Take time to check your child's backpack today.